Dear readers, today we are going to continue our journey through the world of amber. You probably already know What Is Amber, if not, check our previous post to get a detailed explanation.
Every time I think about amber, my mind reminds me of a very life-affirming Hollywood movie – Jurassic Park. In particular, of an episode in which Dr. John Hammond extracts the pterodactyl DNA from the blood of mosquito, trapped in amber.
I remember myself a kid, who first watched that movie, when I was something around 10. In one moment, my mind just BLEW UP with tens of questions like What are they doing? What is that yellow thing? How old is it? IS THAT REALLY POSSIBLE? and many more.
Only after many years, I received answers to all the question I had back then. You know, It was such a pleasure! However, even greatest pleasure for me, as appeared only recently, is to share that knowledge with you. So, let’s now learn how old is amber.
Below you can see a map of all amber deposits found on Earth and their ages.
In this post you will find
- 1 323 – 298 million years ago: First appearance of amber
- 2 298 – 145 million years ago: No amber found.
- 3 145 – 100 million years ago: First amber inclusions, Lebanese and USA amber
- 4 100 – 65 million years ago: Canadian amber and Japanese amber
- 5 65 – 23 million years ago: Indian, Baltic and Ukrainian amber
- 6 23 million years ago – 11 000 years ago:
- 7 Dominican, Mexican and Indonesian amber
323 – 298 million years ago: First appearance of amber
Amber according to various sources appears in the upper Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) period. Can you imagine that?! I want to say that it is older than Mother Earth, but it would be incorrect in our discussion. However, who cares, it is older than Mother Earth! At this time, amber does not contain any inclusions yet.
298 – 145 million years ago: No amber found.
According to various sources, no amber is known from this period. So, if you see someone saying that his/her amber is 200 million years old, there is a high possibility that these people are unprofessional.
145 – 100 million years ago: First amber inclusions, Lebanese and USA amber
The oldest fossil remains found inside amber belonging to the period of Lower Cretacerous and holding great scientific insight to environments of the past. These findings were made in the mountains of Lebanon, to the southeast of the country’s capital – Beirut.
One of the earth’s oldest natural treasures, Lebanese amber, which contains the earliest known representatives of many insect groups, unlocks the secrets of a little-known world populated by dinosaurs, pterosaurs and cycads. Here I must say that only by microscopic remnants of insects and plants, together with the petals of flowers, spores and seeds, scientists recreate the flora and fauna on Earth millions of years ago. Except remains of dinosaurs, of course.
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Amber and amber inclusions were increasingly important for making discoveries and conclusions about the life that existed on Earth millions of years ago. And this is what makes amber so special.The oldest fossil remains found inside #LebaneseAmber. #Amber #NammuEnglish #AmberInsects Click To Tweet
Thanks to amber inclusions, scientists now know that in that remote era, when drops of resin captured sluggish weevils and other living creatures, coniferous forests grew everywhere. However, the usual angiosperms or flowering plants (and therefore, deciduous trees) had recently appeared on the planet, but occupied still a very modest niche.
They were confidently pushed aside by huge cedars, araucaria, and pines. Nevertheless, insects have already adapted to new plants, having learned to extract the pollen of their flowers and, naturally, to pollinate them. So, there were an amazing symbiosis of flowering plants and insects – a commonwealth that helped both of them conquer our entire planet. And only due to amber and its inclusions, it is now possible to know this.
When it comes to United States, the oldest amber on its territory dates back to 120 – 100 million years ago according to various sources.#Amber on US territory can be found in 15 states. The oldest belong to 120 - 100 million years ago. #USA #USAmber #NammuEnglish Click To Tweet
In overall, amber on US territory can be found in 15 states. However, here we should mention that amber deposits differ in age significantly. Starting from relatively young – 38 – 24 million years ago (Arkansas amber) and finishing with one of the oldest amber deposits on Earth – Alaskan amber.
100 – 65 million years ago: Canadian amber and Japanese amber
Canadian amber is a popular term for amber originating from the Campanian (Late Cretaceous) Grassy Lake locality in the southern Alberta, Cedar Lake (Manitoba) and Foremost Formation near Medicine Hat, Alberta.
This chemawinite or cedarite fossil resin has great scientific importance because of its well-preserved inclusions of insects, spiders, and mites. It also contains pollen grains, spores, and fragments of plants from the Upper Cretaceous period.
Most Canadian Amber is 75 – 90 million years old and is usually rich in inclusions. In fact, it contains more genera and species that are extinct today than Baltic Amber, which even sometimes contains species that are still alive today.
Canadian amber is widely known in scientific field and in public due to inclusions of “dinofuzz” and feathers.
Before the discovery of large amber deposits in 2011, scientists knew for quite a while that several of the non-bird dinosaurs actually had feathers. They knew as well that many of them had feathers that are identical to the feathers we see on a pigeon in the park today. But what they didn’t know was the diversity of feathers that were present in these non-avian dinosaurs that existed pretty close to that time interval when those animals disappeared around 65 million years ago.
Only thanks to amber and its property to store trapped inclusions for millions of years, scientist were able to learn more about dinosaurs that lived 75 million years ago.
Presently there is not enough amber in Canada to pull out economically for commercial use, and the amber that is recovered there know is primarily used for scientific study or goes into private or public collections.
When it comes to Japan, the amber deposits are found in the Taneichi and Kunitan Formations (85 million years old) near Kuji and 120 million year old formations in Chõshi.
Japanese amber is found in coal beds and is used for making lacquer. None is exported. Specimens may be viewed at the Kuji Amber Museum and the National Science Museum in Tokyo.
65 – 23 million years ago: Indian, Baltic and Ukrainian amber
Most amber around the world was formed in the Paleogene period. The oldest amber in this group is Indian amber.
It is believed that 50 million years ago first Indian amber was already formed. In this case, the amber is the oldest evidence scientists have of tropical forests in Asia. Tests linked the amber to a family of hardwood trees called dipterocarpaceae, that make up 80% of the forest canopy in south-east Asia. Fossilized wood from these trees was found alongside the amber deposits. It is supposed that much of India may have been covered in forests at the time the amber formed.
The Baltic Sea region has been the original source for amber since Prehistoric times. Although it is not known exactly when Baltic amber was first used, it can be linked to the Stone Age populations. Amber of Baltic origin was found in Egyptian tombs that date back to 3200 B.C., establishing the archaeological barter and trade routes. Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have some 100 Neolithic burial sites in which amber is included. European sea trade was dominated by the Vikings from 800-1000 A.D., with the “gold from the north”, and Scandinavia continues to be a major exporter of amber today.Baltic #amber constitutes not less than 90% of the amber bulk already collected worldwide. #BalticAmber #NammuEnglish Click To Tweet
Baltic amber nowadays constitutes not less than 90% of the bulk of amber already collected throughout the world. Baltic amber consists at 98% of Pinus succinifera pine resin and there is no amber older than 65 million years.
The Baltic region includes localities in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Frisian Islands, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Other localities for Baltic amber include the Czech and Slovak Republics, Switzerland, France, United Kingdom.
Ukraine itself is a country rich on various underground deposits, fossils and minerals. Unfortunately, due to lack of legislative regulation and state control, amber created the whole illegal industry in Ukraine.
Industrial-scale illegal amber mining in western Ukraine is destroying surrounding forests. This highly profitable business is owned, controlled and run by criminal groups that generate up to half a billion US dollars a year. So, for many, amber became a currency for which people can buy apartments, cars, just like US dollars or euro.
Even though amber mining without a license is illegal and considered to be an act of crime, the gangs don’t even try to mask what they are doing. Unlawful miners continue extracting amber from the ground on a daily basis. Police officials, at the same time, claim they simply don’t have resources to do anything about it. Local activists allege that officials in the area are being paid by the gangs.
Recently Ukrainian officials reported that they managed to stop mass extraction of amber in the Rovno region. However, some illegal mining is still taking place. Ukraine is already infected with the amber fever and the western part of Ukraine turned into Wild West. People gone crazy.
Amber reserves in the country are found in Rovno, Volyn and Zhitomir regions. They are primarily located in the northern parts of the regions. Amber is being extracted at a depth of 20-30 meters. Unfortunately, there are no precise estimates of the size of deposits, as there have been little to no studies. State-owned companies are working in only 3 areas of the Rovno region. The rest of potential mining fields are pretty much uncharted, due to lack of funding for exploration.
Ukrainian amber is quite rich with succinic acid, containing up to 6.84%. In Baltic amber the percentage is around 3.20-5.28%, in Belarusian amber — 3.25-9.44%.
Moreover, Ukrainian amber is unique in its range of colors. Its palette has about 200 tones. There are traditional colors: honey-yellow, orange-yellow, orange-red, pink, and even green amber, which is certified by the Polish Academy of Science.
Specialists claim that there are some really big chunks of amber in Ukraine, up to 1 kg (2.2 lbs) in size. Sometimes it is possible to find pieces that are 2, 3 and even 5 kg in weight that are perfect for decorative watches, lamps, statuettes and etc. Picture below shows a big piece of raw amber that weights 3 kg (6.6 lbs).
In fact, the percentage of high quality amber in Ukraine is much higher than in Russia or Baltic countries. Due to its characteristics, it can be aligned to the Jutland amber – the highest quality grade Baltic amber.
23 million years ago – 11 000 years ago:
Dominican, Mexican and Indonesian amber
Amber is found worldwide, but only in two areas the deposits are extensive – the Baltic sea area, as we said above, and the Dominican Republic.
Until the 1960’s, only the Baltic amber was generally known, and when Dominican amber entered the market there was resistance and skepticism among dealers and severe competition in price. Dominican amber entering at a significantly cheaper price, was a strong factor in this. It has long been established, however, that Dominican amber is a true amber, and more recent political and economic changes have balanced the market value. Baltic amber has significantly decreased in price since the opening of Eastern Europe deposits and Dominican amber increase in value.
There are differences between the two ambers that should be noted.
Baltic amber was derived from either a pine or a gum tree (origin is currently being debated), whereas Dominican amber‘s mother tree was leguminous, the Hymenaea. This, and environmental conditions during formation result in a slightly different appearance in the two ambers. Both ambers, however, go through the same processes of polymerization, and amberization.
Moreover, when it comes to Baltic region, there is no common opinion, where the trees grew, which dropped resin into the sea. It is most plausible that 40-50 million years ago, when the Scandinavian Peninsula was connected with the eastern coast of the Baltic, the amber forests grew on the North Sea coast, where the climate resembled the climate of modern Africa. In the subtropical and tropical forests of the Paleogene, lush greenery grew: palm trees, cypresses, magnolias, oaks, firs, chestnuts, pines, spruces. Litter formed a variety of herbs, mushrooms, mosses and ferns.
Most Baltic amber is not found in the place of its origins. In the “amber forests”, the resin oozed down the trees and its branches forming layers, blobs, sometimes dropping down the forest floor creating stalactites, collecting soil and debris and sometimes even entrapping flying and crawling creatures.
Eventually, after trees fell, the resin-coated logs and resin-created stalactites, blobs, entrapped creatures were streamed down the rivers and tides to the deltas in coastal regions, where they were buried for thousands of years in sedimentary deposits allowing them to undergo the process of amberisation.. Therefore, most known amber accumulations are redepositions – the result of geological activity.
Dominican amber is found in a wide range of colors, and generally is translucent. Most common are the yellows, golds, oranges and brown hues. Rare are the reds (caused by surface oxidation) and blues and greens (due to a natural fluorescence in the amber). Bear in mind, annual “output” of the best grade Dominican blue amber probably doesn’t exceed 30 Kg a year; decent grades probably don’t exceed 150 Kg; low grades probably don’t exceed 600 Kg. There are only a few mines which produce high quality material. Inferior blue amber from the other mines may fade after a few months, losing its blueness.
Inclusions are more common in Dominican than in Baltic amber, and due to the natural translucence, generally more visible. Only thanks to amber, about 3 thousand species of arthropods (out of 838 thousand known to science), living in the forest 40 million years ago, as well as about 200 plant species were established. Animals, especially insects, are very sensitive to environmental conditions, so in some cases they are a good indicator of the climate. Thus, organic remains in amber serve as a direct source of knowledge of life on Earth many millions of years ago.
Baltic amber is also found in a wide range of colors and, additionally, is often opaque, or partially opaque, due to minute bubbles in the amber. The opaque amber can be heat and oil treated to remove the bubbles, causing the effect of “spangles”, circular fractures produced during the treatment, which is an identifying feature of Baltic amber. Heat treatment for color enhancement is also common in commercially available Baltic amber jewelry, especially to obtain the “red” colors, a product of oxidation. Dominican amber is generally not subjected to enhancement by heat or oil treatment.
20 mil years ago Mexican deposits of amber were formed, when a significant part of Chapas was covered by the sea. Later, probably due to this, Indians will call amber “water foam” and value it more than gold.
In 1954, Mexican archaeologist Alberto Luilliere discovered amber mask in the grave of a noble Mayan priest. A mask was made of many small pieces of amber. Today we know, that local amber is the fossilized resin of the deciduous tree “Guapinol”. It still grows on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Its fruits are exhibited in the museum of Chapas’ amber in San Cristobal. Although, they have not been able to acquire the exhibits of the pre-Hispanic period, but there are pretty accurate imitations of ancient Indian jewelry.
Indonesia is a very unique country that consists of 17,508 islands, about 6,000 of which are inhabited. That is why amber can be found in many location of Indonesia. Traditionally, the amber usually associated with coal/lignite mining location. Sometimes it can be mined in lignitic-glauconite clay soils.
Typically, amber in Indonesia are Early Miocene in age (23 – 10 million years old). However, Indonesian fossil resins have a range of age and was not all laid down in the same period. So, purchasing Indonesian amber inlay some risks related to possibility of purchasing processed copal instead of amber. Copal is a young fossil resin (11 000 years old and younger), that has not undergone the process of amberisation. That is why it is softer than amber and easy to break or crack. Due to this, copal is way cheaper and easy to get, what makes it a favorite material for producing amber fakes.
If you want to know everything about Amber Colour Classification, check our post – What Colour is Amber?
Unfortunately many of copals are sold by the agents worldwide, with amber value and price. Taking into account that copal is very cheap, following illegal business creates them huge incomes. What can help to protect yourself from a fraud is to conduct a testing. It should determine whether or not any piece is, firstly, a fossil resin and, secondly, either its amber or copal. If you want to know exactly, how to conduct an amber testing, subscribe. In the upcoming posts we will describe in detail and even demonstrate 3 major test for defining real amber.#Beware, #copal is oftenly used in #amber fakes production. #RealAmber #NammuEnglish Click To Tweet
When it comes specifically to Indonesian amber, I must say that there is a lot of fake amber out there – copal sold as amber, plastic and resin with modern insects and etc. However, I must say as well that there is also a lot of real, high-quality amber out there. Unfortunately, you can’t run an amber test before it gets into your hands, so try to buy Indonesian amber only from certified dealers and shops. Maybe you will pay slightly more, but instead will be sure that the amber you keep in your hands is real.
Unlike Baltic amber which may often contain bits of bark, trapped air bubbles, and sometimes insects, Sumatran amber (top quality Indonesian amber) is relatively less included but features dark color areas within its reddish-cognac body that resemble leopard spots.
Moreover, it is well known that Dominican Republic produce fine blue amber, but other locations have blue amber too. Several location in Indonesia produce blue amber: West Papua, Sulawesi, West Kalimantan, Lampung (South Sumatra), and West Java.
Well, in this post, I have described the main and the most interesting amber deposits. Of course, there are more. Countries like Myanmar, New Zealand, Romania, China, Russia and others have their own amber deposits, but they are relatively young compared to mentioned above.
Below you can see a table, where you can see the resented above information, summarized. So, do you have amber in your country? Tell us in a comments below!
With all the presented information, you may still ask, how much time does it took for buried resin to become a real amber? And here we should explain that the amberisation process is a continuum from freshly hardened resins to those that are rockie and as David Grimaldi, famous entomologist and author of the book called “Amber: Window to the Past” states: “No single feature identifies at what age along continuum the substance becomes amber”.
Transformation of resin into amber depends on the prevailing geologic conditions as well as composition of the resin and is usually a result of geothermal stress as chemical changes in the resin accelerate at higher temperatures.
References: Prof. Aftim Acra collection, American University of Beirut, Wikipedia, McKellar et al./Science, National Geographic.