Since ancient times, the word “amber“ had only one meaning – Baltic amber. This amber was formed from a particular type of pine (Pinus succinifera) and is called succinite. It contains 3-8 percent of amber acid. For a long time this feature of the Baltic amber distinguished it from other fossil resin, which was found in different places. Amber definition refers to the fact, that many different fossil resins were unknown. Now are known more kinds of amber, which also contain amber acid. So, this feature is no more a defining characteristic of the Baltic amber. Recent studies have shown that geological knowledge of each fossil resin is important to their botanical classification. Even when fossil resin comes from the same plants, it might be different since it got fossilized in different conditions.
According to Schlee (1978, 1980), all fossil resin, which is more than a few million years old, should be called amber. However, in order to be more accurate a place name, eg. Siberian amber, Borneo amber, New Jersey amber, Dominican amber or Baltic amber, should be given.
At present there are nearly 200 known amber deposits throughout the world and new ones are discovered every year. Amber has been found on all continents except Antarctica. Only a few of the deposits have achieved economic importance, but each is of scientific interest. Scientific research of amber formed in Cretaceous period (Lebanon amber, Jordan amber, Spain amber, Burmese amber), gave unexpected results in terms of evolution.
The Jordan amber, being 130 million-years-old, allowed to detect families of mosquitoes and flies also found in Baltic amber (35-50 million-years-old), and still exist today completely unchanged. It means that evolution of insects began much earlier than it was previously thought.
Here are 31 examples: amber, fossil resin or Copal from different parts of the world, with a description of their main features; where it was found, age, mother-plant, colors, inclusions and their special characteristics.
1. Dolomites amberFound: in sandstones of Upper-Triassic age in the Southern Alps (Italy) Age: 230 Ma. (Late Triassic period) Mother plant: affinity to a conifer family Colours: yellow to brown Inclusions: small fungi, and micro-organisms Special characteristis: oldest known amber with oldest inclusions world-wide
2. Lebanon amberFound: amber beds are located in the district of Jezzine Age: 125 Ma. (Early Cretaceous period) Mother-plant: Agathis (Araucariaceae) Colours: ranging from translucent yellow to faintly translucent dark brown to honey colour Inclusions: many inclusions, but poor preservation Special characteristics: many different deposits
3. Jordan amberFound: in the Kurnub sandstone of Wadi Zerka north of Amman Age: 130 Ma. (Early Cretaceous period) Mother-plant: Agathis (Araucariaceae) Colours: mostly yellow, brown, and dark red Inclusions: quite rare, not well preserved, quite similar to those of Libanon amber Special characteristics: Agathis–like plants occur in the amber-bearing-strata.
4. Golling amber from AustriaFound: in coal-rich sediments of the Austrian alps near Golling/Salzburg Age: 130-120 Ma. (Early Cretaceous period) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: mostly from dark brown to black Inclusions: very rare, not well preserved because of natural heating Special characteristics: structures caused by the folding of the Austrian alps
5. Spain amberFound: Pe?acerrada-Moraz?n region, the northern parts of Spain Age: 110Ma. (Early Cretaceous) Mother-plant: Araucaria Colours: blue Inclusions: abundant Special characteristics: bluish pieces of amber with inclusions
6. Taimyr amberFound: in the coastal area on the beaches of the Taimyr peninsula, near Yantardakh Age: 105-80 Ma. (Late Cretaceous) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: yellow transparent Inclusions: common Special characteristics: this amber is found only onthe seaside
7. Japanese amberFound: mostly in Kuji (North Japan), also in Mizunami and Chosi. Amber from Kuji is deposited on the mountain‘s slopes at about 600 metres depth. Age: Kuji amber is 85 Ma. (Late Cretaceous period), Chosi amber is 110 Ma. (Cretaceous period) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: from green to black, Chosi amber is a type with a very varied spectrum of colours, Mizunami amber is dark, brown or intensiv red colour Inclusions: rare Special characteristics: most of the pieces are cracked because of seismic tremors and the high pressure at considerable depths. The cracks often contain quartz crystals.
8. Burmese amber “Burmite”Found: mainly in the Hukong Valley (Northern Burma) where it occurs in clay deposits and coal seams Age: 100 Ma. (Early Cretaceous period) Mother-plant: Agathis (Araucariaceae) Colours: often clear and transparent, varying from red to brown Inclusions: contains many inclusions Special characteristics: inclusions from the Cretaceous period are well-preserved
9. Canadian amberFound: in various regions of Canada. The term „Canadian amber“ generally refers to amber collected in the vicinity of Cedar Lake, Manitoba. Age: 95-70 Ma. (Cretaceous period) Mother-plant: Agathis (Araucariaceae) Colours: red, brown Inclusions: contains many inclusions, mainly flies, bugs, and arachnids Special characteristics: It is found in areas where amber and dinosaur bones occur together.
10. Ethiopian amberFound: Debre Lebanon, in the northern part of Addis Ababa Age: 95-93 Ma. (Cretaceous period) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: yellow Inclusions: abundant (plant fragments, flying insects, arachnids, microorganisms) Special characteristics:The first real amber in Africa
11. New Jersey amber (USA)Found: in lignite layers just a few feet below surface, near the town Sayreville (New Jersey) Age: 80 Ma. (Late Cretaceous period) Mother-plant: Metasequoia (Taxodiaceae) Colours: yellow to red, translucent Inclusions: abundant, up to 100 unknown species of insects and plants were found Special characteristics: Amazing inclusions: the oldest known bee „Trigona prisca“.
12. Chinese amberFound: in coal-beds of the Guchenzgi formation, near the city Fu Shun, province Liaoning Age: 60-55 Ma. (Late Paleocene to Early Eocene period) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: usually with a black weathering crust, after polishing transparent, yellow to brown Inclusions: contains many inclusions Special characteristics: The inclusions are badly preserved because of natural heating of the amber.
13. Sachalin amberFound: on the shores of the island Sachalin Age: 55-52 Ma. (Palaeocene period) Mother- plant: unknown Colours: dark yellow to brown Inclusions: common Special characteristics: only small pieces occur
14. French (Oise) amberFound: near the Oise river just outside Paris, in sandy, lignitic layers Age: 55 Ma. (Early Eocene period) Mother-plant: the Hymenaea tree Colours: single pieces with a typical frosted surface; after polishing mostly yellow transparent Inclusions: many inclusions, mainly arthropods, few plant fragments Special characteristics: The pollen extracted from the amber are close to a modern Hymenaea species, which today is found only in the Amazonas rainforest.
15. India amberFound: north-west coast of India, Gujarat Province Age: 53 Ma. (Late Eocene period) Mother- plant: Dipterocarpaceae Colours: brown Inclusions: many insects and plants Special characteristics: inclusions can be removed from theamber
16. Amber from SwitzerlandFound: in lignite sandstones, near Fribourg and Bern Age: 50 Ma. (Late Eocene period) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: honey-yellow to orange-brown, transparent Inclusions: few plants inclusions Special characteristics: Under UV light the amber shows an intensive blue-white fluorescence.
17. Ukrainian amberFound: in sands above and below the groundwater level in Western Ukraine (Parcew Delta, Klesov Delta) Age: 50-45 Ma (Eocene period) Mother-plant: pine tree Pinus succinifera Colours: mostly brown, brown-yellow, yellow transparent-red, light green, blue-greenish-yellow; translucent-light green; white with a green or blue tint Inclusions: less inclusions than in Baltic amber, due to the smaller amout of layered amber Special characteristics: Amber pieces above the groundwater level are usually covered with a typical dark-brown to black weathering crust.
18. Australia amberFound: Queensland, Cape York Age: 50 Ma. (Eocene period) Mother-plant: Kauri Colours: mostly brown, brown-yellow, yellow, sometimes red-transparent Inclusions: many inclusions Special characteristics: washed ashore with a variety of resin and the pumice
19. Rumanite, amber from RomaniaFound: in sandstones from the banks of the River Buzau, in the East Carpathians Age: 32-28 Ma. (Early Oligocene) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: brownish-yellow, red-brown, black Inclusions: very rare, not well preserved because of natural heating Special characteristics: famous for rich colours, ranging from brownish-yelllow to deep brown. Pieces of brownish red amber reflect a blue-green fluorescence, similar to that of the “blue amber” from the Dominican Republic.
20. Italy amber (Simetite)Found: in Sicily (South Italy) on the banks of the Simetus river Age: 25-22 Ma. (Early Mioceneperiod) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: raw-material black; after polishing, famous for its dark-red colours; also pieces with blue fluorescence Inclusions: rare Special characteristics: the famous Simetite collection of the Prince Ingnatius Piscary from Catania, which was mentioned by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe during his journey to Italy in the year 1787.
21. Amber from NicaraguaFound: in sandstones at the Caribbean sea-shore of Nicaragua Age: 23-18 Ma. (Early Miocene period) Mother-plant: the Hymenaea tree Colours: varying from transparent yellow to red Inclusions: only a few up to now Special characteristics: newly discovered amber deposit.
22. Dominican amberFound: in sand and claystones of the Northern and Eastern Mountain Ranges at elevations between 500 and 1,200 metres Age: 23-20 Ma. (Early Mioceneperiod) Mother-plant: the Hymenaea tree Colours: yellow, red, green, sometimes blue shades, 90% is trasparent amber Inclusions: many inclusions, fauna and flora reflect a dry tropical climate with many groups of organisms Special characteristics: There exist single amber lumps with an amazing number of inclusions, pieces with 10-50 ants or flies are not rare, but also such with 500-1000 occur. An unusally fluorescent variety which occurs only in limited areas is called „blue amber“.
23. Mexican (Chiapas) amberFound: deposited in lignite layers, mainly in Chiapas, to the East in the Lacondon jungle Age: 23-20 Ma. (Early Miocene period) Mother-plant: the Hymenaea tree Colours: varying from yellow to red/brown; special red translutient pieces and fluorescent blue green varieties are also found Inclusions: because of natural heating usually not well preserved Special characteristics: large Mexican amber lumps are often covered with large fossil oyster shells.
24. Borneo (Sarawak) amberFound: within a coal-seam of the Merit-Pila coal-mine in Sarawak, North Borneo, Malaysia Age: 23-15 Ma. (Late-middle Miocene period) Mother-plant: angiosperm tree of the Dipterocarpaceae family Colours: mainly dark-brown to yellow-brown, partly whitish Special characteristics: Worlwide largest pieces of amber, up to 30 kg..
25. North Carolina amberFound: in the area of Aurora, North Carolina, U.S.A Age: 23-16 Ma. (Neogene period) Mother-plant: unknown Colours: dark-brown, opaque Inclusions: unknown Special characteristics: thedark-brown colours
26. Duxite from Czech RepublicFound: in Bohemia, near the village Dux Age: 20 Ma. (Neogene period) Mother-plant: Cupressaceae Colours: mostly opaque, dark yellow to brown Inclusions: none Special characteristics: occurs attached to or inside fossilized wood.
27. Colombian copalFound: Pena Blanca Age: between 5000 and some hundred years Mother-plant: the Hymenaea tree Colours: pale yellow Inclusions: abundant, but modern fauna and flora Special characteristics: Larger pieces could be filled with some hundreds of termites.
28. Madagascar copalFound: embedded in about one half or one metre depth of the western coastal area of Madagascar Age: between 50 and 500years Mother-plant: the Hymenaea tree Colours: mostly transparent and pale yellow or brown Inclusions: many inclusions, but modern fauna and flora Special characteristics: All copal is soft and smears when it is ground or polished.
29. Borneo copalFound: West Borneo, Indonesia Age: very young, from today to max. 500 years Mother-plant: unknown Colours: dark red with white dots Inclusions: unknown Special characteristics: strange colours
30. Phillipines copal (Manila copal)Found: on some islands of the Phillipines Republic Age: very young, from today to max. some hundred years Mother-plant: different trees of the order Dipterocarpaceae (Dammar tree) Colours: varying from clear-yellow (fresh) to dark grey (fossil) Inclusions: rare Special characteristics: –
31. Todays Dammar gumFound: in Indian and East Asian forests, mostly by tapping the trees, some collected fossilized from the ground Age: recent Mother-plant: Dammar tree, from the family Dipterocerapaceae Colours: from clear to pale yellow, fossilized form grey-brown Inclusions: rare Special characteristics: Dammar was firstly used as a picture varnish in 1862, and is commonly referred to as Dammar varnish.
In conclusion, some observations should be made: the oldest amber in the world is Dolomites amber (about 230 million years old); Borneo amber is found in largest lumps, up to 30 kg.; New Jersey amber is impressive with its inclusions: here the oldest mushroom and a bee were found in amber. What is more interesting, Canadian amber is found in the areas of Canada with dinosaurs‘ bones.
After all, the Baltic amber is the most important one:
- known since the Stone Age
- later extracted in enormous quantities
- of widest colour diversity
- of highest ornamental value
- best manufacturing quality
- a sourse of scientific studies in many faculties for more than 150 years
- up to 5500 animal and plant species