Historical note on amber

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Blake Reher (USA)

Throughout Roman times, amber was considered the ‘Gold of the North’. It was believed to have medicinal properties that cured arthritis, protected people from suffering mental illness, and healed sore throats. People also thought it had magical properties that gave the wearer bravery. Amber was also a symbol of God’s presence.

Workers harvested amber from the Baltic regions in Russia. Merchants transported large quantities of it along roads and rivers to the Mediterranean area in Italy, the centre of the Roman Empire. The Romans used it in making jewellery and it was a luxury product that helped develop a trade network in Europe. Without this valuable product and the trading routes it used, Europe may not have developed as quickly.

Amber is fossilised tree sap. The colour of this sap is yellowish brown, but can also be other colours. The sap sometimes entombs living things such as bugs and leaves, and occasionally larger objects, which can create spectacularly well-preserved fossils.

Fig 1. An ant inside Baltic amber. Image used with permission. © Anders L. Damgaard, www.amber-inclusions.dk.

About the author

Blake Reher is a member of the Pikes Peak Pebble Pups and the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society. He is also a volunteer ranger at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. He is 16 and attends Cheyenne Mountain High School.

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