Amber: Tears of the Gods

Normally, I wouldn’t be interested in semi-precious stones and other pretty things. Personally, I prefer grubbing around in the dirt, perhaps for those far more beautiful, elusive and perfectly formed Cretaceous terebratulids or Silurian trilobites. However, some semi-precious stones have the advantage of also providing a tangible link to the ancient history of life that fascinates me so much – Whitby jet (fossilised monkey puzzle tree) is one and amber (fossilised tree resin), with its wonderful inclusions, another.

For this reason, Neil Clark’s book on amber (“tears of the gods”) caught my eye. The chapter on fossil inclusions (insects, arachnids, plants and small reptiles) is undoubtedly fascinating, but I also got drawn into his description of the multifaceted world of amber – its geological origins, its history, its mythology, its science and its identification. Clark covers all this and more without ever getting too heavily involved in the minutiae and, for this reason, his book is an intriguing mine of information. It is also beautifully illustrated and full of fascinating titbits.

The book appears to be written for collectors and those who simply wish to understand and appreciate the artefacts and curiosities that have been created from and in amber. I am not sure that it is detailed enough for scientists, notwithstanding that Neil Clark is curator of palaeontology at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and has published widely in the field of palaeontology. However, the museum is currently displaying an extensive collection of amber from the Malbork Castle Museum in Poland, together with its own collection of historical amber (see http://www.hunterian.gla.ac.uk/amber/about.php) and this special edition paperback version has been produced for the Hunterian Museum for this exhibition.

From its appearance, there can be no doubt that it has a coffee table book feel about it – with beautiful illustrations on every page. However, this book is also eminently readable and informative. I thoroughly recommend it.

Dunedin Academic Press with the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow (2010). 118 pp. ISBN: 978-1-906716-16-5 (hardback). ISBN:978-1-906716-17-2 (softback).