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JUST WHAT THE HECK IS AMBER?
Amber is a very unusual substance being both tree resin (sap)
and a fossil. The oldest fossil resins found come from seed ferns (pteridosperms)
dating back to the Carboniferous period (320 million years ago). These resins are physically and
chemically unlike any other fossils resins known. Limestones from the Permian period
(260 million years ago) from the area of the Chekarda River in the western
pedimont of the Ural Mountains have yielded microscopic quantities of resin.
Fossil resins from the Triassic period have been found in Switzerland and Arizona (USA). The
oldest ambers found with inclusions come from the early Cretaceous of Lebanon
in the middle East.
Unlike other fossils where the original organic structure is replaced by minerals, the chemical composition of ambers remain virtually unchanged. This is why the inclusions in amber are so wonderfully preserved. A window to the ancient environment is opened. By comparing the inclusions from a particular amber deposit and the organisms in the different environments of today, researchers can draw conclusions as to the nature of the environment in which these organisms lived. A wide range of life has been found encased in amber; insects, lizards, frogs, spiders and other arthropods, and a variety of botanical inclusions.
How does resin become amber? With a lot of luck. Several important things must occur. Resin will decompose if left exposed to the atmosphere. All those many years ago, the globs of resins were carried by moving water and became buried in the sediments of an oxygen-poor environment. The molecules of the resins began to cross-link with one another. The process generally takes several million years although there is no hard-fast rule. A continum exists starting with fresh sap oozing from a tree and ending with amber. Copal is an intermediate stage. It is not as hard and durable as amber.
Amber occurs in deposits of different ages and is found in many places throughout the world. Most of these deposits occur in just trace amounts. Just a few deposits are large enough to be mined. Amber and copal was not produced from one kind of tree but from variety of different conifers and tropical broad-leafed trees.
|Is it real or not real -- That is the question!|
|There are several different material that are commonly encountered as fake amber.|
|Tests for Amber|
|Other plastics TD>||N||Y||N||N|
|(Y = yes; N = No)|
|The information in this section comes from AMBER The Natural Time Capsule by Andrew Ross of The Natural History Museum in London|
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