Amber is the fossilized resin, or sap, of trees. In the case of amber, fossilization does not mean petrifaction or mineralization. Tree resin becomes amber over the course of millions of years, under conditions of pressure and temperature which are not fully understood, by evaporation of volatile components, some oxidation, polymerization, and perhaps some other processes. Polymerization is the linking up of individual molecules into long chains, thus altering the gross physical characteristics of the material. While fresh resin resembles amber at first glance, amber is harder (2.0 to 3.0 on the Moh's scale), is not sticky to the touch, and takes a high polish.
Amber is a polymerized hydrocarbon - as are also plastics. However, there are two simple tests to determine, with a reasonable degree of assurance, whether a particular piece is amber or plastic. The first is to drop the piece into a saturated salt solution; amber will float like a cork and plastic will sink. In the second test, a hot needle will melt amber and most plastics, and if brought quickly to the nostrils, will give a heavy resinous odor (if amber). or a disagreeable acrid odor if it is plastic.
has been known and loved since prehistoric times. Any references in
legends to a "warm light magic stone" from the shores of
the Baltic Sea was undoubtedly a reference to amber. It was deemed
to be magic because,
amber was bad luck for the insects, spiders and other arthropods attracted
to the fresh resin and trapped there - and extremely good luck for
the scientists who could study them many
If the animal was covered with a fresh flow of resin before decomposition, then the preservation of the body form is perfect. You can, with a good magnifying lens or microscope, see very clearly the fine hairs on an insect's legs, the individual facets of the compound eyes and the individual scales on a moth's wings. Sometimes even the colors are preserved - brilliant greens and blues, and warm reds, browns and orange. However, in most cases, the soft internal tissues have long since dried out and what we see is the outer casing or shell of the body, while the body cavity itself is empty, with perhaps a little dust inside. Once in a while the fresh resin flows into and fills the body cavity, and preserves even the cellular structure to the extent that in one case a scientist in California is going to try to revive, after 40 million years, the DNA substance in the fossil body of a fungus gnat!
of Santo Domingo - Mining: in the Dominican Republic, by Patty C.
Rice, Ph. D., in the Lapidary Journal magazine, Nov. 1979, pp. 1804-1810.
Amber. The Golden Gem of the Ages, by Patty C. Rice. Ph.D., published by Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. 1980
The Magic of Amber, by Rosa Hunger. publ. by the Chilton Book Company, Radnor, Pennsylvania, 1979 Bernstein, by Dr. Dieter Schlee, Stuttgarter Beitrage zur Naturkunde - Serle C - Nr. 8, publ. by the Staatliches Museum fur Natur- "- kunde, Schloss Rosenstein, 7000 Stuttgart 1, West Germany. 1978 (in German, but with good photography)
Bernstein - Raritaten, by Dr. Dieter Schlee, 1980, published also by the Staat1iches Museum fur Naturkunde, Stuttgart. (also in German, but with superlative photography)
Golden Window on the Past, by Paul A. Zahl, Ph. D., in the National Geographic magazine, Vol. 152, No.3, September 1977, pp. 422- 435
Sealed in Amber, by Dr. George o. Poinar, Jr.. in the Natural History magazine, Vol. 91, No.6, June 1982, pp. 26-32, publ. by the American Museum of Natural History, New York City.
- True or False, by Dr. George O. Poinar, Jr., in Gems and