It comes in orange, yellow, brown, red, and sometimes green. It’s considered a fossil rather than a mineral, but it is sold as a gemstone. It’s used in both jewelry and decorations. Yes, this week we are talking about the unusual stone known as amber.
Photo by Natalia Soto.
It’s fossilized tree sap.
Amber is formed from the fossilized remains of tree sap, mostly coming from the bark of the tree. Eventually the tree in question got buried in sedimentary layers, where the sap hardened and crystallized. The process from tree sap to amber takes from 2 to 10 million years. Most of the amber that we find today comes from Eocene time.
It holds an electric charge under certain conditions.
Amber can acquire a static electric charge from being separated from a substance such as wool. The process of something becoming electrically charged when separated from a different material it was in contact with is known as the triboelectric effect, and amber is particularly good at this.
The concept of Jurassic Park is actually impossible.
The whole plot of the movie Jurassic Park is that dinosaur DNA has been extracted from the blood found in mosquitos trapped in amber and used to clone the various monsters of the film. This actually could never happen in real life. Both blood and DNA degrade over time. Considering that dinosaurs were alive millions of years ago, there probably is nothing left to use for cloning in the first place.
Modern witches have many uses for amber.
Wiccans and other pagans use amber for luck, healing, strength, protection, beauty, and love. Necklaces are said to provide protection, especially for children. Witches claim that amber beads or stones strengthen spells and magical workings. Fertility amulets are also made of amber.
The incense is not the same as the gem.
Though it is made from sap as well. Resins from plants such as myrrh and frankincense are mixed together to create this kind of incense. It is crushed, heated, and then cooled to form a crystallized amber-like material. This can be burned over charcoal for a piney scent.
There are a lot of fakes out there.
Fake ambers are made from all sorts of different sources, including various resins, plastics, and glasses. They are often sold in New Age stores as genuine amber, but the real stuff is usually much more expensive and harder to find. If you are looking for the genuine article, be careful.
It sometimes contains fossils.
If you’ve ever seen a collection of sap on a tree, you may have observed its tendency to trap bugs, plants, and other matter. This is exactly what happened millions of years ago to the various items now found trapped inside amber stones. Some of the most interesting things found in amber include dinosaur feathers, ancient salamanders and geckos, a 100 million year old spider attacking a wasp, and a 20 million year old flea infected with plague.
It was admired in ancient times.
Ancient Egypt and China used quite a bit of amber jewelry. Beads and amulets have been found at gravesites in Europe dating back to 8,000 BC. Other ancient cultures had a trade of amber rings and beads. Among the many ritual uses of amber were various healing and ceremonial amulets. Some of those uses have been adopted by modern day Wiccans. See the entry above.
An entire palace room was once decorated with amber.
Dubbed the Amber Room, it was decorated with several tons of the gem. It was constructed in 1701 at Charlottenburg Palace but eventually was given to Peter the Great in 1716 and shipped to Russia. In 1941, the Amber Room was looted and carted off by Nazis. Though a replica was constructed in 2003, the original is still missing to this day.
It’s also considered a color.
The official color falls between yellow and orange on the rainbow spectrum, representing the most common color of the gemstone. Amber is often used for warning lights and caution symbols.
I once owned a large chunk of amber with a fossilized termite track inside. I used to use it to raise the fur on my cat, much to his annoyance. Like wool and silk, cat fur seems to be good for charging up amber. Unfortunately I lost this chunk due to circumstances beyond my control (yes, my idiot father was involved), and I have not found a better specimen since. Someday I hope to find another piece, but until then, the fur of all cats is safe.
Getty Center- www.getty.edu
The Virtual Petrified Wood Museum- www.petrifiedwoodmuseum.org
The Guardian- www.theguardian.com
Soul Niche- www.soulniche.com
Earth Archives- www.eartharchives.org
Smithsonian Magazine- www.smithsonianmag.com
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic, Scott Cunningham, 2003