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the World of Amber!
Geographic Occurrence of Amber
Amber in the United States
A dark amber could be found in Kansas in the lignite beds along the
Smoky Hill River, Ellsworth County, but the beds are no longer accessible
because of the Kanopolis Reservior. Less than 50 pounds were found before
the area was flooded. This amber was discovered by George Jelinek and is
referred to as jelinite. An interesting article featuring Kansas amber,
Bacteria and protists from Middle Cretaceous amber of Ellsworth County, Kansas (page down),
is by Benjamin M. Waggoner, when he was associated with the Dept. of Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley, USA. Learn more about Kansas Amber, an interesting fossil resin, that is extremely rare, very brittle, and not obviously fossiliferous. If you read Polish, go to a Kansas Amber article at http://www.geo.uw.edu.pl/JEWELLER/13PJ/11burszt.pdf, by Barbara Kosmowska-Ceranowicz and Susan Ward Aber, that appeared in the Polski Jubiler, the Polish Jeweller.
Other states in which amber has been found include:
- Alaska: amber found in lignite and believed to be derived from
ancient swamp cypress trees.
- Arkansas: more than 900 insects, arachnids and plant inclusions
have been isolated in the amber from lignite beds. This is known as the
largest deposit of amber in North America (Grimaldi, 1996, p. 46). It
is supposedly found in near Malvern, geologically in the Claiborne Formation, which is of Eocene age. (Arkansas
amber collection preserved in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard
- California: amber is found in Tertiary (Eocene) clay shales, Simi Valley,
- Maryland: amber of upper Cretaceous age was found in early part
of this century.
- Massachusetts: before 1883 a 340 gram (12 oz.) specimen of amber
was found on Nantucket Island in Tertiary greensand and marl formation.
- Montana: found in the Hell Creek Formation, Cretaceous age, near
- New Jersey: amber was found in marl (fertilizer) pits,
Cretaceous glauconitic sands, that are no longer worked. A significant
primitive ant inclusion was found in 1967; this ant provided the link
between tiphiid wasps and the most primitive known living ants.
Hundreds of pounds of amber have been taken from sites in
central New Jersey.
Late Cretaceous age amber preserved a rich variety of insects and plants,
from miniature flowers to a mushroom!
Numerous articles have been written
on these amber finds, including online Scientific American sites, such as November 2002,
Gladiators: A New Order of Insect; March 28, 2001,
Ancient Tick Poses New Questions; and November 14, 2000,
Ancient Ant in Amber.
Alsom, amber was found along the New Jersey/New York border in the Sayreville Clay Member of the Raritan Formation, which is Late Cretaceous in age and in the Raritan Bay area.
For more New Jersey amber site information, visit the life in amber page.
- New Mexico: small amounts found in coal. According to Grimaldi
(1996), amber is found in the San Juan Basin, Fruitland Formation, 75 million
year old. A definitive botanical origin of of this amber is known because
the amber is found embedded in the logs of Taxodiaceae (sequoia and bald
- North Carolina: small quantities of Cretaceous amber in lignite
beds and amber or copal specimens have been found in recent years after
- Tennessee: the first known insect discovered in North American
amber was here in 1917, identified as a caddis fly.
- Texas: found in Cretaceous and Tertiary deposits.
- Washington: an abandoned coal mine near Issaquah is the location
of amber in the Tiger Mountain Formation (Eocene). Plant fragments, usually
cedar (Cupressaceae), are found embedded in the yellow, orange, and red amber,
but no insects. Some of these finds are housed at the University of Washington's
Burke Museum in Seattle.
- Wyoming: Steve Levine, a geologist, found amber in the mid to late 1970s. It came from the Battle Spring Formation, a carbonaceous un-altered arkose sandstone, Eocene in age. It was a dark colored nodule, shattered from blasting at Western Nuclear's Seismic Mine at Jeffrey City, Wyoming.
Another Wyoming amber described by Kosmowska-Ceranowicz, Giertych, and Miller in 2001, was found in Upper Cretaceous deposits (Cedarite from Wyoming: Infra red and radiocarbon data. Prace Muzeum Ziemi Nr. 46, 77-80). This resin, described as reddish-yellow and very brittle, was found embedded in the Lance Formation, a compact, lime-free grey loam. Kosmowska-Ceranowicz classified it in the same group as the jelinite from Kansas, the cedarite group of fossil resins.
Amber in the Baltic Region
The Baltic Sea region has been the original source for amber
since Prehistoric times. Although it is not known exactly when
Baltic amber was first used, it can be linked to the Stone Age
populations. Amber of Baltic origin was found in Egyptian tombs
that date back to 3200 B.C., establishing the archeological barter
and trade routes. Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
have some 100 Neolithic burial sites in which amber is included. European sea trade was dominated
by the Vikings from 800-1000 A.D., with the "gold from the north",
and Scandinavia continues to be a major exporter of amber today. For information may be found on amber archeology and trade routes on the recovery page.
A map showing a region, from Poland east
through Russia, displays some of the important sites for Baltic
The Baltic region includes localities
in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Frisian Islands, Poland, Latvia,
Lithuania, and Estonia. Other localities for Baltic amber include
the Czech and Slovak Republics, Switzerland, France, United Kingdom. Amber also
comes from many parts of Asia (what is called Chinese amber is a pale color
to a red and heavily crazed).
- Denmark: amber is found primarily along the west coast of
Jutland, from the southern border with Germany to the tip of Skagen. In 1940
a large number of amber beads, dating from 2500-2200 B.C., were discovered
in Jutland. They are currently on display at the
Skive Museum. The region, including the west coast of Denmark and
adjacent Germany, is the originating area for the Bronze Age amber trade
route to the Mediterranean. Amber was more plentiful in this region in the past
than at present.
It has been estimated that about 80% of the amber sold by Denmark today,
is imported into the country from Poland, the CIS and Germany.
- Sweden: the southwest tip, as well as several islands in the
Baltic, host amber. It is collected off the beaches, especially after storms.
- Germany: is especially famous for skilled lapidaries, with
the most famous gem industry area, Idar Oberstein. Amber is found along the
northern portion of Germany, from both the coastline with the Baltic and
inland along the Elbe river. Germany also imports amber from the CIS.
German amber is featured at
Amber: A Perfect Fossil Trap
(In German too!).
- Poland: along the northwest side of the
Bay of Danzig or Gdansk Bay, Baltic amber is frequently found in the layer in which
it formed. Amber deposits were somewhat depleted by the end of
World War II, though it can still be found all along the Baltic coastline
and somewhat inland, as well as along the border with Germany, from the
sea to the Oder River.
- Russia: a small outlier of Russia, an area called Samland,
Kaliningrad Oblast, continues to be one of the largest
concentrations of amber in the Baltic area. Kaliningrad is home to Yantary, an amber museum, and is believed to supply over two-thirds of the world's amber and 99% of the Baltic amber
in recent times. It is not only rich in quantity, but also in the variety
of types found.
- Lithuania: bordered by the productive Kaliningrad area, the
amber rich, blue earth layer extends into Lithuania. This country has
one of the larger amber museums in the world. A
product in demand from the some Lithuanian amber was amber varnish,
which was used on ship decks and fine violins. To learn more, visit the formation of amber in Lithuania
, from the Mizgiriai family.
- Latvia: another Baltic state rich in amber, is also the site
of the School of Applied Arts (Liepaja). This is one of the few schools
in the world that specializes in artistic amber processing.
- Estonia: another country with Baltic Sea access and amber. The use of pottery marked the beginning of the early Stone Age or Neolithic Era (first half of fifth millennium to the middle of the second millennium BC). In Estonia, pottery skills arrived around the beginning of the fourth millennium, 2500 BC, and the pots were decorated with dimples and indentations (Laur et.al., 2000, p. 15). This distinctive pattern was assigned to the "comb-pottery culture," a group of people who also carved amber figures for ornamentation and burial inclusion for the "next life" (Laur et.al., 2000, p. 15). The extent of comb-pottery settlements stretched from northern Finland to eastern Prussia and Baltic amber was traded among these populations. The comb-pottery culture is considered to be the direct ancestors of the later Baltic Finns, or the Estonians, Finns, and Lavonians (Laur et.al., 2000, p. 16). The Iron Age began some 2,000 years ago in Estonia, with iron smelting; amber was one of the trading commodities at this time with peoples of the Roman Empire (Laur et.al., 2000, p. 20-1). The importance of Baltic amber to these people in the south is underscored by a Roman historian, who ..."mentioned that in Rome, one would pay 'more than for a living man' for even the smallest amber object" (Laur et.al., 2000, p. 21)!
- England: along the coast of Kent, Essex and Suffolk, the southern
North Sea, small amounts of amber can be found. English amber is usually
golden or cloudy yellow, with its source not exactly known. Amber artifacts
found in prehistoric graves in England are not necessarily from the English
Other Amber Sites
Dominican Republic: this amber is classed as retinite,
because it contains no succinic acid; it is primarily of Tertiary (Oligocene)
age. When exposed to UV light, all Dominican amber fluoresces blue or green
shades. Jewelry designed by Dominican artisans tends to have a distinct
quality reflecting the Taino Indian culture of the past. The Dominican
Republic is the most plentiful source of amber outside of the Baltic area.
Visit Keith Luzzi's site TerraTreasures and Schwing's site on A New Look at Dominican Amber for more information.
- Myanmar (formerly called Burma): burmite, has been used by
Chinese craftsmen as early as the Han dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) and rarely reaches any market
outside of China. Burmite contains 2% succinic acid, less than Baltic
amber, but still considered a succinite. See The London Natural History Museum's Geology Bulletin (page down), Volume 56(1), June 2000, for an issue devoted to articles on Burmeses amber, such as A Review of the History, Geology and Age of Burmese Amber (Burmite) by Zherikhin and Ross, among other interesting articles. Also, visit http://home.fuse.net/paleopark/amber3.htm, Burmite, Burmese Cretaceous Amber, by Ron Buckley.
- Lebanon: amber from Lebanon is Lower Cretaceous in age or about 130 million years ago. This amber oozed from a Kauri Pine forest and contains some of the oldest embalmed insects known, as well as fossil plants, animals, and feathers. Also, Lebanese amber was traded by Phoenicians some 5,000 years ago. Find out more about this amber in the book, Lebanese Amber: The Oldest Insect Ecosystem in Fossilized Resin, by George O. Poinar, Jr. and Raif Milki.
- Romania: rumanite, brownish-yellow and contains considerable
sulfur. A variety of "black amber" is actually deep red, blue, or brown
when held to a light source. There is no truly black amber. The so-called
"black amber" is usually jet, a variety of lignite coal.
- Sicily: simetite, yellow, red, blue, or green varieties with
less succinic acid than Baltic amber (Tertiary-Miocene/Oligocene age). The simetite
resin source-tree is related to Burseraceae protium, an angiosperm,
rather than a conifer. Most simetite is found in museum collections,
jewelry with simetite is rare.
- Mexico: amber is found in Chiapas and only recently publicized;
classed as a retinite (from a leguminous tree). Visit
http://www.mexican-amber.com/, Mexican Amber, by Cardell Calhoun
- Canada: chemawinite or cedarite fossil resin has great
scientific importance because of its well-preserved inclusions of insects,
spiders, and mites. It also contains pollen grains, spores, and fragments
of plants from the Upper Cretaceous period. The first deposits to be studied
extensively were at Cedar Lake, Manitoba. It was suggested that these deposits
were secondary, that is redeposited from an unknown distant source. Amber is
also found in the Foremost Formation (75 million years old) near Medicine
Hat, Alberta. Grassy Lake, Alberta is another Canadian site which has
yielded many fossil insects (Grimaldi, 1996, p. 25).
- Japan: amber found in coal beds is used for making lacquer and
none is exported. The amber deposits are found in the Taneichi and Kunitan
Formations (85 million years old) near Kuji and 120 million year old
formations in Chõshi. Specimens may be viewed at the Kuji Amber Museum
and the National Science Museum in Tokyo.
- Tanzania: these deposits are older than copal resin, but younger
than Baltic amber.
- New Zealand: ambrite, a transparent, yellow variety of true
fossil resin. New Zealand also has Kauri copal,
a natural resin
resembling amber. Kauri copal radiates from the Kauri pine, Agathis
australis, which live over 1000 years reaching heights of 120-160
feet (40-50 meters). Kauri copal has been found buried as deep as 300
feet (100 meters) and is extremely old. It does not contain succinic
acid and does not polish well, though it can contain insect inclusions
and resemble amber in color.
The Kauri Museum
located at Matakohe, Northland, New Zealand is an interesting site
detailing the copal and copal producing tree.
- Greenland: retinite found along the southeast and southwest parts
of the country.
Reference Laur, M., Lukas, T., Maesalu, A., Pujur, Tannberg, T. (2000). History of Estonia. Tallinnn, Estonia: Avita.
- Polish Jeweller article on Kansas amber, http://www.geo.uw.edu.pl/JEWELLER/13PJ/11burszt.pdf is by Barbara Kosmowska-Ceranowicz and Susan Ward Aber, and originates from
http://www.geo.uw.edu.pl/JEWELLER/index_jewel.htm. All of the articles at this site are in Polish.
Bacteria and protists from Middle Cretaceous amber of Ellsworth County, Kansas,
is by Benjamin M. Waggoner, Dept. of Integrative Biology, University of California
at Berkeley, USA, published in PaleoBios, Vol 17(1), p. 20-26, July 13, 1996
- central New Jersey
is an external link to a page within
Dinosauria On-Line by Jeff Poling
- Online Scientific American sites originate from http://www.sciam.com/ and include
Gladiators: A New Order of Insect;
Ancient Tick Poses New Questions; and
Ancient Ant in Amber.
- The Amber Room
is a page within the
Welcome to Fossils of New Jersey by Steve Kurth.
Amber: A Perfect Fossil Trap by Dr. Volker Arnold
features German amber.
- http://geography.about.com/library/weekly/aa010300a.htm is the Kaliningrad information site
- Amber formation in Lithuania
is from the Mizgiriai family, Gintaro Galerija Muziejus.
Dominican Republic is an external link to an excellent page featuring microscopic images from Dominican Republic amber and its inclusions
- A New Look at Dominican Amber by Leslie Schwing, the Amber Lady.
- Geology Bulletin, from the London Natural History Museum
- Burmite, Burmese Cretaceous Amber, by Ron Buckley, is found at http://home.fuse.net/paleopark/amber3.htm.
- Mexican Amber, by Cardell Calhoun, is found at
- The Kauri Museum located at Matakohe, Northland, New Zealand.
- George O. Poinar, Jr. and Raif Milki is a link to a new book, Lebanese Amber The Oldest Insect Ecosystem in Fossilized Resin.
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copyright 1996-2004 © Susan Ward Aber All rights reserved.