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Amber with inclusions
Amber with inclusions. Al Copley photo.

Amber is a fossilized resin derived from ancient trees, often conifers, that existed millions of years ago. Over time, this resin has undergone a process of polymerization and hardening, transforming it into a solid material that can preserve the remains of plants, insects, and other small organisms that became trapped within it.

MinDat Amber

Amber is renowned for its warm, golden color and its transparency, which allows the embedded inclusions to be visible. These inclusions can provide valuable insights into prehistoric ecosystems and the evolution of various life forms. Insects, spiders, plant fragments, and even small vertebrates have been found preserved in amber.

Amber (copal). Copal is incompletely fossilized amber.
Amber (copal). Copal is incompletely fossilized amber. Al Copley photo.

The word “amber” itself comes from the Arabic term “anbar,” which means “ambergris” (a different substance derived from the digestive systems of whales). Amber has been valued for its beauty and the unique window it provides into ancient life forms since antiquity. It has been used for ornamental purposes, jewelry, and amulets across cultures and time periods.

Amber is often categorized based on its age and the specific geological era in which it was formed. Some of the most famous and well-studied amber deposits are from the Eocene epoch, with Baltic amber being a well-known example. Baltic amber, found in the Baltic Sea region, contains a wide variety of inclusions and has been used in jewelry and art for centuries.

Amber cut as gemstone
Amber cut as gemstone. Al Copley photo.

In addition to its scientific and aesthetic significance, amber also holds a place in folklore and cultural beliefs. Throughout history, various cultures have attributed mystical or protective properties to amber, and it has been associated with healing and spiritual practices.