Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems


Termites in amber
by Debra Wilson;
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Amber is a semi-precious gem material composed of fossilized tree resins. It is classified as either succinite, which contains succinic acid, or as retinite, which does not. Although of organic origin and not a mineral by modern definitions, amber is usually included in the study of minerals because of its widespread historic use in jewelry and other ornamental items.

The Baltic Sea region has been the principal source of amber since the dawn of western history. Long held to be the only "true" amber, Baltic amber is a succinite. It originated from a vast forest of evergreen trees of extinct species between 40 and 60 million years ago. The discovery of Baltic succinite artifacts has helped archaeologists trace ancient European and Mediterranean trade routes.

Important sources of retinite include the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Amber from these localities originated from leguminous trees between 10 and 25 million years ago.

Copal is a recent semi-fossilized resin often mistaken for amber. Copal is produced by modern leguminous and coniferous trees in Africa and Asia. It is softer than amber and readily cracks or crazes.

Since the early stone age, amber's golden translucence has been revered for its beauty and resemblance to the sun's radiance. Amber was particularly prized in pagan sun-worshiping cultures, which held it to be a magical substance of supernatural origin with mystical powers, and it was valued equally with gold.


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