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Amber Gemstones - Some kind of a Jurassic park gem!


Amber is sometimes said to be the Jurassic gem because it is as old as the dinosaurs that were the rulers of the earth at the time. After the screening of the film Jurassic Park, dinosaurs became very popular, with games and movies including them in their story plots. Oddly enough, after the film was shown, there was a marked increase in the demand for amber all over the world. Amber has been used to make jewelry and other decorative items since the Stone Age, but in recent times, the market for this gemstone has somewhat shrunk. However, after people saw the DNA of a dinosaur being extracted from a mosquito that was properly preserved in amber, the demand rose high.

Amber, as people learned after the screening of the film, is the resin of ancient pine trees, which was fossilized and formed a valuable gemstone that is as old as the dinosaurs; this ancient history is what makes the gemstone so popular.

It should come as no surprise that there is a marked increase in the demand for amber gemstones that have remains of insects embedded in the crystals. The Author of Consumer Guide to Colored Gemstones, David Federman, is quoted as saying that amber was like a time capsule, which was formed and placed inside the Earth, by Mother Nature herself. Paleontologists have been able to trace the path of evolution by studying the age of amber and also the insects, plants and other forms of life, that are preserved within the gemstone. Amber has made it possible for scientists to find and classify over 1000 species of insects which have long been extinct.

Today, the main sources of amber are the Baltic nations and the Dominican Republic. From the Baltic States, one gets amber that is dated as being older than that from the Dominican Republic, but the latter is also precious because it has the highest number of inclusion in the stones. The insect inclusions make them very popular due to the exhibition given by the film. Today, you can get amber that is priced between $20 and $40,000 and sometimes even more.

Thanks to the liberalization of the economies of the Former Soviet union and the countries in Easter Europe, the new amber enthusiast can now get more amber that originates from the Baltic States, than ever before; it is now more available in the market than it was in the past. In the Baltic region, the largest mine is found in Russia, just west from Kaliningrad. Other Baltic amber is mined in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia Russia and Poland. Sometimes you can find the gemstones being washed up on the shores of coastal countries such as Denmark, England and Norway. Other sources of amber include Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma Mexico, Canada, Germany, Lebanon and Sicily. It is not strange that there is still a high demand for amber. This is a gemstone that has been used to make artifacts that have been dated back to the Stine Age, and these are found mainly in Denmark and Germany.

Some mythology of amber jewelry stones

Mr. Federman also says that for some time, Stone Age man thought that amber had supernatural properties and they used to wear it everywhere and worship with it. The Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians and Etruscans really valued amber and it had significant meaning in their daily lives. Ever since the Stine Age amber has remained fashionable. It is said that over 1 million kilograms of amber were used to make gemstones between the years of 1895 and 1900. These ancient civilizations believed that amber was made from the sun, and they had good reason to think so, as you will see later.

The origin of amber is steeped in a lot of myths. According to a writer called Ovid, the son of Helios, which is the name that was given to the sun, called Phaethon, after a lot of cajoling and pleading, was allowed by his father to drive the chariot of the sun through the heavens one sunny day. However, as he rode through the heavens, he came to close to the earth, by mistake, and he ended up scorching it. In order for the earth to be saved from total destruction, Zeus, struck Phaethon with a single bolt of lightning, and he dies, and he plummeted from the skies to the earth. Phaethon´s mother was struck by grief and she and her sister were turned into trees, but they still continued to shed tears for the young man. As the tears dried up in the heat of the sun, they turned into amber.

The history of amber and the Greeks

There is no concrete reason why the Greeks named amber "elektron", which meant sun-made. Maybe it was because of the story of Phaethon, or it was because the soft stone tends to be charged electrically whenever it is rubbed with a cloth thereby attracting small particles. In the Odyssey, written by Homer, amber was used as a princely gift and was used to make all sorts of amber jewelry, including earrings beads and necklaces.

Nicias, who was another ancient writer, is quoted as saying the amber was the essence and juice of the setting sun which had congealed as it went over the horizon, and sunk to the bottom of the sea, only for it to be brought up to the shores by the tides of the waters.

The emperor Nero, who loved amber very much would send Roman armies to conquer and control areas where amber was mined or found. According to the Roman historian called Pliny, in Nero´s time the price of a piece of amber, even when small, was higher than that of a strong and healthy slave.

In ancient Germany, the Germans burnt amber as a form of incense, and they christened it Bernstein, which can be translated as Burn Stone. In the middle ages, amber of high clarity was said to be the best for making rosary beads, since it had a smooth and silky constituency. The trade in amber was controlled by a clique of knights and anyone found with the stone without permissions was considered to have contravened the law; this happened in all of Europe until the year 1400.

What can be read from amber?

Is it possible that a mosquito which was trapped in the center of amber have fresh DNA that could have come from the blood of a dinosaur that it had bitten? At the most, the oldest deposits of amber could only have been formed about 25 to 50 million years at the most. It is known that dinosaurs were wiped out about 65 million years ago, which marked the end of the Cretaceous Period. The Jurassic period is said to have been more that 144 million years ago.

However, in 1994, a molecular biologist from the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, known as Dr. Raul Cano, said that he and his team had found DNA from a weevil, which had become fossilized in a piece of amber that was dated as being 120 to 135 million years old, and this was a time in which dinosaurs are said to have still been roaming the planet.

The piece of amber came from the Lower Cretaceous period, and was found in Lebanon, in an area just south of Beirut, by a collector called Aftim Acra. This collector is known to have owned an amber collection that had more than 700 insects, which included caterpillars, moths, midges, termites and pseudo scorpions. All these insects were known to suck blood from dinosaurs, and so it could be true that amber can have the DNA of the ancient dinosaurs.

The physical Properties and Geological Occurrence of Amber gemstones

Amber is a yellow fossilized gum sap that comes from the trees of the genus Pinus. The yellow color can vary in shades ranging from pastel yellow to deep brown, and sometimes can have a white, blue of green tint. It is very rare that you find amber with a deep green or blue color, and these two varieties usually have a cloudy look, since the sine has a lot of air bubbles trapped within it; the turbidity comes around due to the modification of light rays as they pass through the air bubbles.

When it comes to transparency, amber ranges from perfectly clear to completely opaque. There are several varieties which are cloudy and have odd names in the industry; those with names such as Bony, Osseous, Frothy and Bastard are the most important. The bastard variety is quite turbid, but it has a superior polish. The bony variety is opaque, quite soft and does not have a great polish when finished.

Amber is quite a soft stone and has a hardness value of 2 to 2.5 on the Mohs scale. Although it cannot be scratched by a finger nail, any form of sharp metal will give it a deep cut. This is a very brittle stone with a specific gravity which is slightly greater than that of water. It has a specific weight of about 1.05 to 1.096. When heated, amber will become very soft when the temperature reaches 150 degrees centigrade and will completely melt at 250 to 300 degrees centigrade. The stone can burn even at low temperatures and that is why the Germans used it as incense and named it Bernstein.

As mentioned before, amber does become electrically charged when it is rubbed with a cloth; it is one of the first minerals that were noted to have this property. Despite this, amber cannot conduct heat and it feels warm to the touch, unlike the cold feel that other gemstones exhibit. Alcohol, ether and other solvents do attack the surface of the stone, and this is a property that distinguishes it from other fossilized gums and modern ones too. In mineralogy, amber is known as succinate, which is derived from the Latin word Succinum, which simply means amber. The organic acid that is a constituent of amber is therefore called succinic acid.

Amber is commonly found in the Prussian coast of the Baltic Sea. This is an area that is found between Memel and Danzig. Amber can also be found on the far west at Scleswig-Holsteb and the Frisian Islands. It can also be found at the shores of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The shores of these localities have been a source of amber from time immemorial, and the people living on the shores have made a living from collecting and selling the soft stones. The name given to the coastal amber is Sea Stone or Sea Amber, and it is usually found in better qualities than that which is found in the mines, since all of these forms have uniform quality, and have not been discolored or altered by the rocks and other abrasives as is the case in the mined stones. Amber is very light and it is therefore swept and trapped into seaweed; the collectors have devised a method of collection, where large amount of sea weed are brought to shore, and then they look for the amber. The amber that is collected in this manner is given the name of Scoop Stone; this is because nets are also used to bring in the seaweed. In marshy areas, man usually ride on horseback and follow the ride as it go out and they collect the stones. These riders are also known as Amber Riders. Divers also look for this stone, although to a relatively small extent.

The natural history of amber

The title of amber, from the earliest of time, has been vested in the State and all collection has been under the scrutiny of the government. If it is not under the State, any mining was taxed and this included both that collected from the sea and that mined from the ground, thereby giving a lot of revenue to the State. Before 1860, the only methods of mining amber are those mentioned before, where it was collected after being washed aground by water. The Sea amber must have come from the rocks below the sea, and if there was a way in which these deposits could be exploited better, either by mining or dredging, then there would be a larger supply of the stones. Today, the sea bed is now being mined and a great supply of clean amber stones is now available. Looking at the rectangular peninsula of East Prussia, where you find the mines of Sammland, the rocks where the bulk of the mining is done are, first, a bed of sand, followed by a layer of Lignite consisting of Sand and Clay, and then followed by a layer of sand, which is green in color, which has a thickness of 50 or 60 feet.

Although these layers all have scattered amounts of amber, the bottom of the green sand is where the mother lode of amber can be found. The stratum that contains the amber can be as thick as 4 to 6 feet, and it is a very dark blue in color. This is a stratum that is dated back to the Tertiary age, and is called Blue Earth, and this is a representation of the pine gums that was found in pines that grew at that time. The woody remains of the pine trees can still be found within the Lignite layer. It is also possible that the amber found here could have come from older deposits.

Insects found in amber

The fact that amber is formed by gum which flowed from vegetation is proven by the large number of insects that are found trapped in the crystal; some of the insects have a missing limb or wing which tells the story of it trying to escape from the sticky goo. It seemed that the insect landed on the gum when it was in a gummy state, and it was held there until later amounts were deposited on top, and the inset was forever buried in the sticky tomb. The insects within amber are filed, ants, spiders, and even beetles; one could also find bird feathers in the amber, perhaps from birds that came to feed on some of the stuck insects before they were completely covered up. The inclusion in amber also include remains of plants, such as cones, needles, blossoms, buds and leaves. The fact that the inclusions are so varied, shows that the stone originated in forests that were rich in flora and fauna.

When compared to modern forms of flora and fauna, one can see that they are representatives of some of the existing genera, but the species tell a story of those which were peculiar to that region and period. Amber tells a great story about the plants and animals that lived in the Tertiary period, through the remains that are found embedded in the stone.

Although amber, which has animal inclusions is highly valued, there are some unscrupulous people who are duping the world about the value of the amber. They have been known to cut holes in the stone and then place one of the animals that you find today, and then they cover the holes with modern gum of the same color or they fuse the opening shut using a hot rod. If you find sea animals and amphibians in the stone, then it is most probably been fictitiously introduced.

The beauty of amber

When it comes to beauty, the amber from Sicily is said to be more beautiful than that from Prussia. It is possible to get stones that have a blood-red or chrysolite-green color, and these have a fluorescence that sets them apart from all the rest; the color of the florescence is usually different from that of the surface of the amber. The amber from Sicily is chemically different from that found in Prussia; it contains less succinic acid, and is lore soluble. All other aspects are the same. This amber is found on the southeastern and eastern coast of Sicily and they are mainly washed up from the bottom of the sea, just like the bulk of the Prussian amber.

In the United States, amber is found in several places, but their amounts do not allow them to be commercially viable. The amber from this region was formed within the Cretaceous Glauconitic, or otherwise known as green sands of New Jersey. The color of the amber here is yellow; there are other deposits in North Carolina and also in the Coal-beds of Wyoming; this comes from the Lignite that originated from Alaska. The natives in North America used to carve the amber into crude beads.

Although the main deposits of amber in the world are found in Sicily and Prussia, there are small amounts found in places such as Basle in Switzerland, near London in England and in France, near Paris. It can also be found in many areas of Asia, and these are where the amber found in china and India comes from. There are some deposits in Mexico which also contribute a small amount of gemstones into the international market, because it has the same beautiful fluorescence as that from Sicily.

Amber substitutes

Although there is evidence that counterfeiter do make changes to amber to pass it off as having come from a specific ancient age, there are substitutes for the gum, and these are mainly used to make glass and celluloid. Celluloid is very dangerous since it is extremely flammable; in order to tell the difference between amber and celluloid, you simply rub tem with a piece of cloth; amber will become electrically charged while celluloid will not. When celluloid is rubbed together, it will give out an aromatic smell as opposed to that of amber, given off by genuine amber. When it is put in hot water, celluloid will give off the smell of camphor. It is similar to amber in that it is sensitive to alcohol and ether, and is easily scratched by sharp metals. Glass has a cold feel as opposed to the warm feel of true amber, and it is also harder than amber.

Apart from the substitutes, it has been found that when small pieces of amber are heated together and oppressed down hard enough, they are joined and come together to form one large piece which is known as amberoid.

The uses of amber gems

The main ways in which amber is carved into different items is through turning it in lathes, just like wood or metal, or by cutting it the hands. It is possible to heat it using hot linseed oil, and this allows it to be bent without melting it. This heating will also remove all opaque spots and can be used to treat amber for better clarity. During heating in linseed oil, colors can be added to the soft stone.

About 50 percent of all amber produced in the world is used to make items that are used by smokers. This means that cigarette holders, mouthpieces for pipes, and cigar holders are usually made from amber. Amber is also used to make ornamental items which are mainly in the form of beads, rounded and faceted, which are strung together to make necklaces, bracelets and other such items. These items are then sold all over the world, and the sale is also determined by preferences of the cultures in a particular region. In France and Russia, the bastard variety is the preferred amber, while in Holland and China, the clear variety is in high demand; in West Africa, the semi osseous amber is preferred due to its brownish tinge. The pressed amber, or amberoid, is mainly used to make bulky objects, but these cannot be termed as fine items; this kind of amber tends to turn to white with age. Amber is also used as a varnish and the smaller and impure pieces are melted for this exact purpose.

In summary

They say that money does not grow on trees, but in the ancient times, gems did. About 40 million years ago, towering pine trees in the Baltic region of Europe, starting producing large amounts of sap. This sticky gum flowed down the trunks and trapped insects and plants debris, trapping it in its middle. The sap would slowly harden and more amounts would be added on top of the previous deposits. After this, the same thing happened later on, in the region of the Dominican Republic, and also later in some parts of what is now known as Tanzania. You can picture the vista of these forests and the glowing floors of hardening glistening gum. The Ice age and continental drift did their part and made the resin harden and form a soft, lustrous and warm substance that has the countenance of plastic.

Within the last million years, people found the amber stones, and since they were first harvested from the sea, they said that they were formed from the sun, and they placed supernatural and healing power on the stone, using it for their spiritual worship rituals. This fascination with the amber lasted for several centuries, and it is still being felt to this very day. Prominent ancient civilizations which loved the amber were the Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks and Phoenicians.

There are no other gems that can compare to the amber when it comes to the length of time that it has been used for ornamental purposes. The only other gem that comes close is the Pearl. In the 1920, amber in the United States of America was the second largest gemstone export, with only the diamond being exported in higher quantities.

Why amber was so precious for over 70 centuries

Amber is said to have frozen time and is likened to a time capsule that was placed on Earth by Mother Nature herself. Patty C, Rice, the author of the book entitled, Amber: The Golden Gem of the Ages, says that over 100, extinct insects and crustacean have been preserved within the substance of amber. The study of these remains has told the story of these extinct plants, insects and small sea animals. Paleontologists owe much of their knowledge about life, at this time, to amber.

Similarly, amber has a history that resonates greatly with that of the human race. In early Europe and the Mediterranean region, amber was used as a form of currency for trade. Amber is truly a gem that is rich in history, a history which can be traced through stories, as well as through the evidence that is found buried in the soft stone.

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