Posted on July 18, 2014 by Mary Hood | 1 Comment
While diamonds are remants of geologic history, amber is a relic of ancient life.
Ant fossilized in Baltic amber.
Some stones, like natural black diamonds, have fascinating, prehistoric origins and serve as a reminder of the layers of time (and mystery!) between their formation and our present day. Amber is one of these stones. In fact, it often gives us a peek at life on earth as it was millions of years ago.
Often valued as a gemstone, Amber is actually fossilized tree resin. The viscous, golden-hued substance has a tendency to ensnare, and ultimately preserve, the bodies of insects, giving us a 3-D view of ancient bugs.
Until 2012, paleontologists believed that the oldest amber dated back to roughly 130 million years ago (around the time trees were believed to produce enough resin to trap insects).
New findings, however, suggest that three amber fossils found in northeastern Italy may in fact be 230 million years old, dating their origin to the Triassic era. Each fossil contains an ancient insect: one fly and two mites, which may help inform our understanding of fly and mite evolution.
It’s probably safe to say that the more amber is studied, the more knowledge of ancient ecosystems it will impart, rendering it immensely valuable to scientists and environmental-enthusiasts alike.
But long before amber was studied under microscope, it enjoyed a rich cultural significance. From the Neolithic period to the present, amber has been used in jewelry, home decoration, and even as an ingredient in perfumes (the rich, earthy scent of amber is now widely produced synthetically). In ancient Greece, amber was used as a healing medicine while in ancient China, amber was burned in celebration at large festivals.
Amber is a common note in contemporary perfumes like "Spanish Amber" by Pacifica Perfume.
In a Lithuanian legend, the queen of the sea, Juraté, falls in love with a fisherman. Her jealous father punishes her by demolishing her amber palace and turning her into sea foam. Pieces of her amber palace are still found on the Baltic shore.
Amber fossils can be made into necklace pendants, brooches, and even 14k gold rings.
How would you like to wear this ancient insect on your hand?
Some amber bugs come at a high price, like this mating queen ant for $99,900.
Would you wear a bug fossilized in amber?
Photos: Wikipedia, Pacifica Perfume, Amanda Bass, Amberica West