The Amber has Arrived!
Amber is fossilised tree resin. Imagine sticky golden-brown gum weeping out of pine trees and then wait 45 million years: the gum hardens as it loses its more volatile components. The result is a natural plastic, possibly made up of chains of around 40 carbon atoms with attached hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
Amber has been prized for thousands of years and is a popular jewel today in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The main source of amber is the Baltic where it is both washed up ashore and mined from beds.
So-called ‘Baltic’ amber also gets washed up in England. The coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk, north east of London, produced large quantities hundreds of years ago, the locals so familiar with it they burned it like coal. More amber also sweeps down south to wash upon the beaches of north Kent. One strange feature, even mentioned in Roman texts, is that it is only washed ashore in Spring and I can confirm this to be my experience without exception. In 35 years’ of collecting I have only ever found amber between January and June, with the peak from February to April. Amber is only slightly denser than sea water. Possibly the colder spring water makes the amber a little more buoyant and hence mobile; wind and tides are, on average, no stronger as the days lengthen as when they shorten.
The word ‘amber’ is now the description of a colour and, indeed , most amber is of that recognisable orange-yellow hue. However, this overlooks the enormous variation that exists. I have found pieces which are ruby-red, brown, grey, yellow, colourless and, most recently, a delightful green. ‘Dominican blue’ sounds exotic and, as the name suggests, comes from temptingly warmer climes.
Amber often contains trapped particles or inclusions. Bubbles of trapped air enable sampling of ancient atmosphere. These bubbles result in opaque amber. Clear specimens often contain plant debris. Trapped insects are very rare and add greatly to the value. Estimates put the insect inclusion rate at 1 in a 1000 for Baltic amber. I can vouch for 1 in 300+ and my only insect-laden specimen is shown above.
Do please send me any related news about amber. Next time: how to test that amber is real and not fake.