Amber: Frozen moments in time

Gary Platt (UK) Amber has a deep fascination for people, both as a gem and as a chance to look back into the past with a remarkable clarity. Its warm, lustrous touch beguiles us and the remarkable inclusions sometimes found within it capture our imagination. Fig. 1. Ant in Baltic amber – Hymenoptera sp. Amber is found all over the world including, nearer to home, the Isle of Wight. This article looks at some aspects of amber that might interest both the casual and the informed reader. Formation of amber Amber begins as resin exuded from trees millions of years ago. Most known deposits of amber come from various tree species that are now extinct. Baltic amber was produced by a tree called Pinites succinifer, a tree sharing many characteristics of the modern genus Pseudolarix. In appearance, it would have looked similar to a pine or spruce tree. Fig. 2. Fly in Baltic amber – Diptera sp. The resin may have originally been used as a defensive mechanism against insect infestation or fungal attack. Once released from the tree, the resin begins to go through a number of stages to become amber. The first stage involves the evaporation of volatile oils. The oils, called “turpenes”, slowly permeate out of the amber. This may take many thousands of years before the process turns the resin into something approaching the structure of amber. Turpenes give resin its distinctive and powerful odour. Fig. 3. Gnat in Baltic amber – Dipteria cecidomyiidae. Following the … Read More

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