|Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems
Termites in amber
by Debra Wilson;
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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.
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.