GemSelect Newsletter - October 2011
Welcome to the amazing world of fossilized amber, otherwise known as fossilized tree resin.
You may have seen fascinating pictures of small insects trapped inside amber. They have been there for millions of years!
One of the first documented accounts of insects captured in amber was noted by a Roman naturalist called Pliny the Elder (23 AD - 79 AD). He wrote that the amber must have been liquid at some point, "the presence of certain objects, ants... and lizards...must certainly have stuck to the fresh sap and have remained trapped inside it as it hardened".
Lizards! If Pliny had actually seen lizards trapped in fossilized amber then he was certainly very lucky. Today, such gems are worth a small fortune.
Most fossilized amber today is found in the Baltic regions; thus it's known as Baltic amber. Latvia, Poland and Russia are the usual areas in which it is found. However, since amber is light and can be swept around by the sea it is easily transportable. Therefore, amber has also been found washed ashore in Scandinavia, Germany and the UK.
Fossilized amber pieces have been found in the Dominican Republic that generally contain bigger insects (probably because it is in the tropics) and these are believed to be about 30 million years old! The clarity of the amber is also better, enabling the insects to be seen clearly.
Large amounts of fossil resin with insects have also been found in Colombia. This material is called 'copal'. Again the quality of the amber is excellent and the insects found are of such a vast cross section that naturalists can study an ancient rainforest frozen in time. A fossilized lizard was also found in amber here.
Ordinary amber is priced according to its size and clarity. However, the exception to the rule is when it happens to include an insect. In these cases the gem is worth a lot more, and it will depend on how clearly visible the insect is and how near the centre of the gemstone it is located.
This is a situation in which size really does count and the bigger the insect, the better and the more valuable the amber.
It's possible that some of the insects walked into the sticky mess or maybe, as many naturalists believe, the resin dropped from the tree onto the unfortunate insects below. Resin is a natural weapon of defense for the tree, designed to seal wounds and also to repel harmful insects, as well as attract friendly insects to kill insects and bacteria that may harm the tree. Therefore, it makes sense that resin and insects are found together.
There are some very interesting examples of unlucky insects frozen in time millions of years ago, whilst going about their business. These include insects caught in spider's webs, ants transporting eggs and small mites hitching rides on the backs of beetles!
Flying Ant (right) Andes Mountains, Columbia
Fossilized amber was brought to the attention of the public during the film 'Jurassic Park'. Most amber found today was actually formed after dinosaurs had become extinct, during the Tertiary Period, which began about 65 million years ago. However, in the film, DNA is taken from dinosaur blood in the stomachs of mosquitoes (an interesting concept) and dinosaurs are cloned! Could this really be possible? Well, The British Museum of Natural History is investigating the idea. So, watch this space...
Meanwhile there are stories of a piece of amber found in Gdansk, Poland, that holds a small lizard and, even more amazingly, there was a find in the Andes Mountains of Colombia of a small lizard entombed in amber - and there are pictures to prove it!
The lizard, measuring 28 mm in length doesn't have a tail; a piece of the story that is lost to time. It is surrounded by insects. You can imagine the tropical forest floor and the buzz of the insects already caught in the amber in a mad struggle to free themselves, attracting the lizard, as he too walked into the trap.
They were all entombed together. A real scene from an ancient tropical forest millions of years ago!
We have a varied selection of amber on our website, however, no amber gem containing a miniature fossilized dinosaur! However we do have lots of amber with inclusions showing bits of unknown vegetation and plant debris. So, if you want to try and clone a several million year old unknown plant species, now's your chance!
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Happy Gem Hunting!
Your friends at GemSelect
- First Published: October-01-2011
- Last Updated: June-22-2017
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