The Amber Dictionary

 A-F and G-Z

 by Volker Arnold

The amber dictionary was inspired by the Museum for Archeology and Ecology PC Quiz, located at Albersdorf, Germany.

Age of important amber types
Alava-amber
Albersdorf Museum
amber (the name of)
amber colophony and lacquer
"amber forest" and Baltic amber
amber manufactures
Amber Museum Ribnitz-Damgarten
amber pine
amber privilege
amber room
amber trade routes
amber use by stone age hunters
amber use by stone age peasants
amber use in bronze and iron age
amber use in medieval and newer age
ants

B
ad Füssing

Baltic, Baltic amber
"Bastard" (hybrid)
bees
beetles and weevils
Berlin Natural History Museum
birds
Bitterfeld amber
"Blitzer"
blue earth
Borneo amber
Bronze age
bugs
 

Caddis flies
cicadas
cigars
colors of amber
combustibility, "Brennstein"
conservation of amber
cooking clear/dying amber
copal
Cretaceaous Period
 

Decay of amber
Denmark
density
determination of inclusions

dinosaur blood in amber mosquito
discovery sites, North Sea
discovery sites, other
Dominican amber
drops
dying amber
 

Electrostatic loading
Eocene
exhibitions in Denmark
 

Falsifications and manipulations
Fennoscandia
flea market amber
flint stone
floating ponds
"Flomen"
flies, gnats, midges
frequency of inclusions
 

G-Z

Age of important amber types: The age of the different types of amber varies, since amber was often reworked before its final deposition. The following values in millions of years seem probable: 20 for Sicilian and Borneo amber, 25 for Dominican amber, 45 for Baltic and perhaps Bitterfeld amber, 70-95 for Canadian amber, 85 for Japanese Honshu amber, and 125 for Lebanese amber, Austrian Golling amber, and Alava amber.
 In the region of Alava, Basque country, northern Spain and Salzkammergut, Austria, recent amber finds contain insect inclusions and are Cretaceous age. One of the well-known amber occurrences is Lower Cretaceous, near Cedar Lake, Manitoba, Canada.
Amber colophony and lacquer: Inferior amber and amber processing waste can be made into amber colophony or rosin and amber oil, which are both raw materials for the production of high-quality amber varnish. Amber varnish is preferred over modern synthetic varnishes by many.
" Amber forest" and Baltic amber: During Eocene Epoch, Fennoscandia was a subtropical forest area, with palms and pines, which must have had similarities to today's forests of northern Florida or southern China. Amber inclusions also suggest cooler, partially open, flower-rich areas (bees in amber)! A hypothesis is that the Tertiary Fennoscandia was drained by a river system called "Eridanos," which flowed into the Eocene sea north of Samland through a delta, where much tree resin was washed out and deposited as amber in flat sea sands ("blue earth").
 
 

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Amber manufacturers: You will find Schleswig-Holstein amber manufacturers at St. Peter-Ording (Boy Jöns), Schobüll near Husum (Stegemann) as well as at Friedrichstadt (H. Rauh). At St. Peter-Ording and at Rurup/Angeln one can find combined amber exhibitions with old amber jewelry and amber inclusions. Stegemann/Schobüll offer amber with inclusions.
The Amber Museum: The German Amber Museum at Ribnitz-Damgarten (between Rostock and Stralsund, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) is the only museum in Germany dedicated to amber. The extensive exhibition is absolutely worth seeing and shows some outstanding amber inclusions.
Amber pine: The term "amber pine" refers to the coniferous trees from which resin was extruded. The Tertiary forest contained trees similar to some modern day and the resin is thought to have come from Araucarian trees, such as Agathis, although some scientist believe the amber pine was primarily Pinites succinifer. In any case, around 40-90 million years ago the resin was extruded, hardened with time, and Baltic amber was created. In resin-soaked wood shreds annual rings can be recognized and provide evidence for a winter growth break.
Amber privilege: In the Middle Ages, the German Order claimed the right to all amber of east and west Prussia, because of its great value (e.g. for paternoster prayer beads). Later this privilege called 'Bernsteinregal' was passed on the prevailing ruling lords. Collecting amber and selling by individuals was an offense that could result in severe punishment and death. This privilege continued until 1945 in moderated form.
 
 

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Amber Room: The Amber Room was a complete chamber decoration, which King Friedrich I of Prussia ordered for his Palace of Charlottenburg, near Berlin. The decoration was finished 1712. Already in 1716 he gave the amber room to Czar Peter the Great of Russia as a gift. It was reassembled in a palace near St. Petersburg. The room was stolen by the Germans during World War II and brought to the East Prussian town of Königsberg (today Kaliningrad), where it probably was burned in 1945. Again and again there are rumors, believing the amber room is still stored in underground mines.
Amber Use by Stone Age Hunters: Already reindeer hunters of the final Ice Age (approximately 10,000 years BC) carved amber trailers near Hamburg, Meiendorf, and Ahrenshoeft/Nordfriesland. In Denmark and the southern Baltic Sea area, Mesolithic hunters (8,000-5,500 v Chr) carved amber artifacts, some in the form of animal charms.
Amber Use by the Stone Age Peasants: In the time of the Stone Age farmers (Neolithic, 3,500-1,500 BC), much amber was collected, sacrificed or hidden (amber deposits from Jutland), and converted to beads and trailers, placed in graves of the dead. Small bifacial axe reproductions in amber are typical for the megalithic grave people.
Amber trade routes: Since the Stone Age, Baltic amber was traded with people in the south of Europe. Imported amber was found in Greek Mykene jewelry. Up to the time around Christ's birth, most amber came perhaps from the North Sea Coast over the Neather Rhine to Massilia (Marseille) and Liguria or upstream the Elbe river, towards the Adria Bay. The Samland amber was traded along more eastern routes (e.g. over Carnuntum at the Danube or to Greece along Dnjepr and Bosphorus).
 
 

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Amber use in the Bronze and Iron Age: In contrast to the farmer Stone Age farmer, there are fewer finds of treated amber from the Bronze Age.  Amber processing increased during the Iron Age, when the importance of amber grew with Greek and Roman appreciation. Beads for mixed chains, spin disks, gambling figures and dice are known up to the Viking Age.
Amber use in medieval and newer age: In the Middle Ages and later, much amber was used for the production of prayer chains ("Paternoster" craftsmen). In the modern times, amber was used in the past for decoration, representative cases, gambling stones and boards, inlaid works, mouth pieces of tobacco pipes, among other things. Today most amber is manufactured for jewelry, decorative accessories, and playing chains for oriental people.
The Baltic: The Baltic region includes the countries near the Baltic Sea, south of Finland and east or north of Gdansk (Danzig). Baltic amber finds cover a larger area though, which encompasses northern Denmark, west Baltic amber. Most east Baltic amber finds are along the coast of East Prussia, Samland, west of Königsberg (Kaliningrad, today a part of Russia). Amber can be found along the coastline, but also in open-pit mining.
"Bastard" (hybrid) is the German name of common amber types, which are clouded by countless holes or vesicles, giving an opaque, milky look to the amber.The colors of the "bastards" are between yellowish-white and ocher-yellow. "Bastards" rarely contain inclusions and when present, the inclusions are unrecognizable.
 
 

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Bees: From the insect class of the Hymenoptera, ant workers and smallest wasps occur in Baltic amber most frequently. Braconid and chalcedonid wasps, deposit their eggs mostly into other insects (e.g. aphids) or even into their eggs, have a body length of only 1 mm. In addition, highly developed honey bees were found; the existence of these bees suggests that portions of the amber forest were flower-rich.
Beetles, weevils, bugs, caddis flies, cicadas: The tiny spring-tails (collembola) are frequent, as are small aphids, which can be easily over looked. Occasionally caddis flies are found, whose larvae are dependent on water. Smaller representatives of various beetles are rarely observed, likewise larva stages of grasshoppers and cicadas. Among the rare inclusions are finds of termites, damselflies, mayflies, cockroaches, butterflies, pseudoscorpions and mantises. Attention grabbing inclusions include a few finds of fleas.
Berlin: The Museum of Natural History in Berlin possesses one of the most extensive German amber collections, featuring Baltic amber with inclusions. The collection is not completely open to the public, but to scientists with justified interests. The University of Göttingen contains important parts of the earlier Königsberg (Kaliningrad) collection.
Birds and mammals: As a special feature a few bird feathers are preserved in Baltic amber. Hair or fur torn off mammals can also be found, and sometimes together with skin particles and even louse eggs. The hair identified to date has come from small rodents or bats. An alleged mammal jaw with teeth is perhaps more fantasy than true. Lizard inclusions are quite rare and are commonly falsified.
 
 

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Bitterfeld amber: In brown coal pits near Bitterfeld in Saxonia there is the only large occurrence of amber in Germany today. It is below the Tertiary brown coal and contains many animal inclusions, similar to Baltic amber. Some researchers believe Bitterfeld amber to be equivalent to Baltic amber, based upon the homogeneous fossil remains. Other researchers believe Bitterfeld amber to be substantially younger than Baltic amber. When commercial mining was halted in 1992, the Bitterfeld amber has been sought by amber lovers, despite of prohibitions and the gradual flooding of the pit called Goitzsche.
"Blitzer": is the German name of artificially reflecting fissures, which develop after 'cooking clear' the amber in oil, followed by cooling in water. Although these sun spangles are attractive in jewelry, many inclusions are damaged or destroyed while making "blitzer."
Blue earth: Blue earth is a marine deposit of Tertiary age located in Samland (East Prussia, today part of Russia), which contains reworked amber deposits that are mined, open-pit, near Palmnicken.
Borneo amber: Amber from Borneo (island in southeast Asia) has been known only for a few years as a result of coal mining. Some amber is quite large and it has a very dark color. This amber is only half as old as Baltic amber and occasionally contains insect inclusions.
 
 

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Cigars: By water, amber is washed together with other materials, which have similar density, that is dark plant sections and small branches do not float on water. Depending upon the form, they are called cigars, "Sprockholz" (floating wood), or "Kaffeedick" (coffee grounds). One can search successfully in such shore-washed deposits in the Wadden Sea and along the coast.
Colors of amber: Amber is usually light to darker, golden yellow and ages to reddish or brownish yellow, in extreme cases to red tones. Cloudy amber can be whitish yellow or white. Depending upon contamination or formation of pyrite in fissures, the colors may darkened. Some other amber types, particularly Dominican amber, can occasionally be blue or green. Amber can fluoresce blue.
Combustibility, "Brennstein": Amber can be ignited easily with a lighter, contrary to synthetic resin, and this burning property was the origin of the German, brennstein, which means burning stone. The flame is brightly, reddish-brown and the burning amber smells like pine resin and flowing together to form a black, inflexibly mass. In former times, amber was a popular incense, burnt to create an aromatic smoke.
Conservation of amber: Since amber weathers slowly, but constantly when exposed to air, its preservation causes a lot of problems. Lacquer and synthetic resin coats seem to protect the amber. Pieces with nclusions may even be cast in synthetic resin blocks, but it is not well-known whether the synthetic resins will outlast decades or centuries without aging also.
 
 

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Cooking clear and dying amber: Cloudy amber can be heated or 'cooked clear' in clear turnip seed oil (in prehistoric time, piglet fat was used). Inclusions can be destroyed completely or suffer substantial damage and occasionally they become more visible! Artificial coloring is accomplished by penetrating the surface of the amber, using dye to darken or turn the specimen red (e.g. for jewelry or decoration purposes).
Copal: Copal is the name assigned to resins that have not yet completely changed to amber. They are concentrated in the estuaries of tropical rivers (e.g. Africa). They are geologically younger than amber, at the most some ten thousand years old, and may contain many inclusions. Copal becomes sticky with warmth and dissolves if one dabs it with cotton wool and ether, and single cotton fibers will remain stuck.
Many fossil resins are well-known from the Cretaceous Period (70-140 million years), with interesting animal and plant inclusions (e.g. Lebanon, northeastern America, Japan, and the Alps in western Europe). A recent discovery of amber is situated in Alava/Basque Country (northern Spain), with distinctive inclusions, such as a small wasp, an ant, and a feather.
Decay of amber: Amber weathers constantly, particularly by atmospheric oxygen and with the influence of light. Near to the surface it darkens upon weathering; open cavities and fissures are constantly becoming wider, which leads finally to a rough and crumbly surface, whereby inclusions are destroyed. Valuable pieces of amber and special inclusions should be collected and conserved!
 
 

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Density: Amber is only little heavier than water with a density around 1.07. It sinks in fresh water, but floats in strongly salty water.
The mosquito containing blood of dinosaurs, which allows for the recovery of DNA for genetic engineering of a living dinosaur, is a fairy tale! Only a few amber sites go back to the time of dinosaurs, which died out 65 mill. years ago. If it becomes possible to make humans out of the blood of today's mosquito, then creating living dinosaurs may become reality!
Diptera: including midges, gnats and flies, are the most frequent inclusions in Baltic amber. Only a few preserved midges and gnats in amber are found simultaneously with mosquitoes, which is an indirect sign of warm-blooded animals such as birds and mammals in the amber forest.
Places of discovery at the North Sea: Amber is occasionally found on sand beaches and in the Wadden area along the North Sea, but also on land in the dangerous floating ponds. It is found most frequently in front of St. Peter Ording and along the west coast of Jutland; in addition, amber is found in front of Büsum and to the east and north Frisian Islands.  Amber is found particularly after storms, amber becomes trapped where material was washed together and is somewhat heavier than water and does not float ('Sprockholz'). Along the Schleswig-Holstein west coast, the best finds are a few days after stormy weather abates.
Places of discovery: Important amber occurrences are well-known (e.g. from Japan and Canada), which belong both to the Upper Cretaceous as well as the Lower Tertiary. Important insect inclusions of the Lower Cretaceous are known in particular near Cedar Lake, Manitoba, Canada. Also of Cretaceous age are recent amber finds, with insect inclusions, from Salzkammergut in Austria and in the region of Alava, Basque country, northern Spain.
 
 

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Dominican amber: In the last few decades, amber has been found and mined in the Dominican Republic (Carribean, Central America). Dominican amber contains frequent large inclusions, which originate from a later period of the Tertiary than Baltic amber. It developed from resinous leguminous trees.
Drops or "zapfen" in German, developed from elongate resin which solidified before falling down. Renewed resin flows may transform them to thicker resin stalactites. Drops or taps often contain inclusions, with the cores preserving bits of branches. Drops have a typically flattened, roundish, bead form and maintain a natural decomposition crust.
Amber loads itself up electrostatically, if it is rubbed under dry conditions with a cloth or with wool. It can actually attract paper shreds. In former times such a thing was remarkable or even thought of as magical, because there were no plastics, as today, with such characteristics. Thus electricity is named from amber (electron in Greek language).
The Eocene is the name of the second of five sections of the Tertiary (55-35 million years) and a particularly warm time. During this time, most Baltic amber may have developed under subtropical conditions and was redeposited by water during the following Oligocene.
 
 

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Exhibitions in Denmark: The Geological Museum in Copenhagen has a large collection of primarily west Baltic, Danish amber, with inclusions, but it is not open to the public. In the prehistorical department of the National Museum in Copenhagen and in the larger archaeological museums, there are many prehistorica amber finds. A new amber museum with a great exhibition is situated at Oksbøl, near Esbjerg. Private amber museums, in combination with workshops, are at Højer Vidåsluice, near Tønder, at Sønderlev, near Hjørring, and at Skagen. For vacationers to south Denmark, a visit in the showroom at Lakolk on Rømø is recommended (Pedersen). At Skanör (Scania, South Sweden), there is an interesting Brost's private amber museum.
Falsifications and manipulations: Questionable amber inclusions are already known from several collections of the 18th century. Falsified pieces often include spectacular inclusions, such as frogs or lizards. It is not usually worth the work to falsify the small midges and flies. When acquiring remarkable amber inclusions, one should be cautious if the price is unusally high and the origin uncertain.
Fennoscandia is the name of a land massive of Tertiary age (Eocene), which was situated in the area of today's Bottnic Bay, Baltic Sea, which includes the adjacent sections of Sweden and Finland, and the northern Baltic. The southern section of Fennoscandia was transgressed by the sea during the Oligocene.
Flea market amber: What Polish and Russian dealers offer at flea markets, will usually be Baltic amber from East Prussia and the lower Vistula area. Some of this amber is possibly procured illegally. The low prices could be a sign of treated jewelry, reproductions, or amber pieces cast into a pressed resin. Rosary chain beads and raw pieces may occasionally contain small inclusions.
 
 

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Flint: Inexperienced amber searchers can mistake amber for translucent, yellow flint. Amber is softer though and feels warm to the touch; flint is harder, and can scratch glass, plus it feels cold to the touch.
In floating ponds or during wet gravel dredgings on the glacial highlands or in marshlands, individual pieces of amber may be washed together, and found at the surface. Entering these mining ponds is forbidden and very dangerous, particularly for inexperienced people!
"Flomen" (German name of goose fat) is a name for clear amber, that is clouded by many medium sized vesicles or holes. Occasionally, one can find inclusions in "flomen", if there is a suitable view possible.
Frequency of the inclusions: Particularly in Baltic amber termed "Schlauben", inclusions are so frequent that one is found with every twentieth piece, if not often. Several animal or insect inclusions may be found even in cheap flea market amber chains, made of predominantly clear amber beads polished in cylinders. Large inclusions are always rare and mostly discovered before the amber is working into jewelry.
 
 

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copyright 1998, 1999 © Volker Arnold. All rights reserved. Author thanks Susie W. Aber for translation help.