Amber of Lebanon: Geologic Treasure from the Land of Milk and Honey

By

Patty Miles

http://www.emporia.edu/earthsci/amber/go340/students/miles

This paper is to fulfill a requirement for GO 340 Gemstones and Gemology. My father, Youssef Abou Akrouche, was born and raised in the Bekaa Valley village of Qabb Elias. Dad loved his homeland very much and would tell my sisters and me wonderful stories of farm life. Thus, it is with great interest that I explore Lebanese Amber and share what I learn with you.


View of Qabb Elias
Photo date 1992. Photo by Youssef Abou Akrouche


Table of Contents

Introduction
Geographic Location
Scientific Research and
Embalmed Flora and Fauna
Lebanese Amber Collection of Aftim Acra
Acknowledgements
Reference

Introduction

When I think of amber I usually think of jewelry, not fossils. The fact that amber is associated with both jewelry and fossils makes amber quite unique. Amber is a very popular choice for jewelry and many styles are available. Amber is not an actual mineral but fossilized resin of ancient coniferous trees (Azaar 1). The amber found in Lebanon is very old, perhaps the oldest, dating back to the Cretaceous period or some 100 million years old. The amber is also in a much more vulnerable state (Aber 4). Often there are inclusions of flora and fauna enbalmed in Lebanese amber which holds great scientific insight to environments of the past. This is the stuff that fuels the imagination and satisfies curious minds, young and old alike.

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Geographic Location and Geologic History

Lebanon is a small country which lies north of Israel, off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Latitude and longitude coordinates are 33° 50' N 35° 50' E. Lebanon is in a subtropical climate with wet winters and dry hot summers with an adequate supply of water from mountain run off (The World Factbook Lebanon). Many flowers and fruit trees result from this ideal growing environment. Lebanon has not always been in this location. 150 million years ago Lebanon was part of Gondwanaland, a huge continent attached to South America. What followed was a series of volcanic activity and erosion which led to the creation of rivers and deltas. Lebanon was a deltaic plain which rose and fell above and below sea level, where marine limestone gathered. It was at this time that the Kauri pine trees exuded their resin which dropped to the ground and was swept into low areas and covered by shallow waters (Poinar & Milki 14).

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Scientific Research and Embalmed Flora and Fauna

The amber of Lebanon may hold insight into environments of the past with the study of the inclusions of flora and fauna trapped inside the amber.When amber is first formed it is very sticky and many plants and insects would get caught with no way to get out. The organisms found in Lebanese amber date back to the Cretaceous period; a time when flowering plants and insects were co-evolving (Azaar 3). In the article Amber Research Provides Window Into The Past George Stauth writes about a professor of entomology at Oregon State University, George Poinar, and his new book Lebanese Amber: The Oldest Insect Ecosystem in Fossilized Resin. Poinar and co-author Raif Milki have been able to do some insect identification by using 130 million year old DNA from insect inclusions in the amber. This is valuable knowledge not only for entomologists but for other scientists as well, "Other scientists constantly contact Poinar to see what clues his amber can provide about things they are studying- you can tell a lot about the carnivores of an era, for instance, by studying insects that feed upon them" (Stauth 2). Biting insects found in Lebanese amber might even contain dinosaur DNA! (Poinar & Milki). This book is full of wonderful color photos of Lebanese amber. Coauthor Raif Milki recounts searching for amber in locations in Lebanon where there is political unrest and danger from land mines. Most of the amber in Lebanon has been found on the western slopes of Mount Lebanon, including Jezzine, Dahr el Baidar and Hammana to name a few (Poinar & Milki 14).

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Lebanese Amber Collection of Aftim Acra


Image taken from
the collection of
Professor Aftim Acra, the
American University
of Beirut,
http://ddc.aub.edu.lb/
projects/amber/acra/
F15-1.html
.
Professor Aftim Acra is the chairman of environmental health at the American university of Beirut. Since 1962 Professor Acra and son Fadi have collected amber in Lebanon. Professor Acra has collected over 3,000 pieces of amber from at least ten different sites in Lebanon and believes there to be many more waiting for discovery. In his publication The amber of Lebanon: An ecological museum of fossils, professor Acra tells us how a hobby transformed into work of scientific merit. Professor Acra and his son Fadi worked diligently on managing and maintaining such a collection, " As there was no one around for us to consult about the proper manner to process the amber specimens and to photograph the fossil inclusions, we had to resort to patience, determination, repeated trial and error, and innovation to ultimately acheive success" (Acra 4). Some of the various insects identified in Aftim Acra's collection include flies, moths, leafhoppers, aphids, plant and assassin bugs, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, thrips, lace-wings, ant lions, bees and wasps.


Acknowledgements

In loving memory of my father Youssef Abou Akrouche.


Brothers Youssef, Ali, and Dean Akrouche


Reference


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This page went online May 1, 2004. Last update May 2, 2004. Comments can be emailed to the author. © 2004 Patty Miles