Leaf in Dominican Republic Amber
Image taken from ambarazul.com,
specifically www.ambarazul.com/fossilgal.html

Amber of the Dominican Republic


Scott Smith


Amber of the Dominican Republic is a project created for a gemstones and gemology course taken in the 2006 spring semester from Emporia State University. The assignment was to learn webpage creation, as well as present a summary of my knowledge regarding gemstones and their valuable properties and special uses.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • History
  • Composition
  • Geologic Age and Occurrence
  • Characteristics
  • References and Links

  • Introduction

    Amber is fossilized resin created from a tree to protect itself from infestations in places where the bark came off. It is mainly used in jewelry and considered a gem, even though it is not a mineral. Amber that has not quite become fossilized is known as copal. Most amber is dated between 30 and 90 million years old, and copal is about 30 million years old or less. Amber is created when a tree has become injured and the resin has to fill in the holes of the tree. Once that is done the amber becomes hard and falls to the ground. It will usually fall on a sand or sandy clay surface, depending on the location, and become encased in the sediment for millions of years. On the way to fossilization the amber collects things like insects or plant fragments. These fragments are then preserved in the amber for millions of years. Some amber inclusions contain spiders, mosquitoes, flies, ants and even frogs and lizards. Some plants include things like moss, leaves, and seeds.

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    Dominican amber originated from the resin of an extinct species of a broad-leaved tropical tree which is called a Hymenaea. Baltic amber is more related to resins of broad-leafed conifers. It is associated with an extinct pine known as the Pinus succinifera. Amber has been used for its beauty for thousands of years. Amber can be found in many other places but the most notable locations are those of Eastern Europe (Baltic), and Mexico. Colombian amber is mostly copal and Australian amber is extremely rare. Amber from the Dominican is notable for the amount of inclusions that are found. Some people have found scorpions and frogs that have become completely preserved. Lizards are another example of inclusions that can be found in Dominican amber. The amber in the Dominican can also take many colors, which is like no other amber. The Baltic Sea yields the oldest amber on the planet (Amber World Museum, 2002).

    To see an image taken by W.P. Armstrong of resin from a Hymenaea courbaril or West Indian locust tree, go to waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0702.htm#amber2a.gif. The tree can be found all over Central and South America. It is the closest relative to the Hymenaea protera from the Tertiary period. More images and extensive text, all part of an online course by Dr. Armstrong, can be found at waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0702.htm, Nature's Transparent Tomb! Amber from the New World Tropics, waynesword.palomar.edu.

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    Amber is not a mineral because it is organic and it has no definite crystalline structure. Amber is made up of many resinous materials that are soluble in things like alcohol and ether. The composition of amber contains mostly hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. In some cases sulfur may be present but for the most part, these three elements dominate. Pure amber contains a chemical called succinic acid, which is what you would smell if you burned amber. This acid is mainly present in Baltic amber although other amber has an extremely small amount of the acid. It is known though that amber is composed of different compositions depending on the origin of the amber (ambarazul, 2005).

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    Geologic Age and Occurrence

    The age of Dominican amber ranges from 30 to 50 million years old, which is Oligocene to Miocene in age. Although some Dominican amber has been in rock that dates back 90 million years. There are three main sites where amber is mined. The first one is called the La Cordillera Septentrional, which is to the north. Here the amber was formed in clastic sedimentary rocks in which the sandstone developed near a delta or even a deep water environment. The other mines are called the Byaguana and the Sabana which are to the east. Here the amber formed in sediments of organic rich sand and sandy clay (ambarazul.com, 2005). The clay is called lignite, a carbonaceous clay which interbeds the sandstones. The amber was even found in some gravel beds. The amber here is said to be a secondary deposit, which means they were transported from their origin and deposited somewhere else. The majority of the amber can be found on steep mountain sides or near river beds. Most of the amber found here is no bigger than a few centimeters across and found as nodules. Although the largest piece of amber ever found here was about 18 pounds (Dominican, 1997). The oldest and hardest amber comes from a location north of Santiago. All of these sites have proved to be in the same sedimentary basin, but was later disrupted by movements along a local fault (amberazul.com, 2005).

    Map of amber sites. Image taken from

    Geology of the Dominican Republic. Map drawn by Gabi Gutierrez-Alonso.
    Image taken from Lipkin, 2002, palaeo.gly.bris.ac.uk/palaeofiles/Lagerstatten/DomAmber/GeoAge.html,
    which was taken from www.fiu.edu/orgs/caribgeol/hispaniola.html, Florida International University.

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    There can be more than one type of amber. Amber from the Dominican can have many different colors. The most popular can be found as a light yellow, or a deep red. Other strange colors of amber include a rare smoky green and a blue. Amber has been known as a mysterious gem giving it a high demand. It was also thought that amber could protect the bearer from harm or danger. Amber is also used in medicine and for religious purposes. Columbus was one of the first to see the great Dominican amber as he arrived at the Dominican Republic. Upon his arrival his gift was a pair of shoes with Caribbean amber decorated on top. The exchange was this for a string of Baltic amber (Amber World Museum, 2002). The blue amber found in the Dominican has questioned amber lovers around the world. Some believe the blue comes from the volcanic ash which may have mixed with the resin during creation. What makes Dominican amber so special is the inclusions. There is nothing like it anywhere else on the planet. Many scientists have studied the amber to examine the life during this time period. But compared to Baltic amber, scientists have only studied the inclusions for less than a decade. Baltic inclusions have been studied by scientists for over 200 years. Not only can the scientist study the insects, but also the flora. They will eventually known what the forests were like in the Tertiary period (Platt, 1997).

    Image taken from
    a page from ambarazul.com.

    Here are two examples of the different types of amber in the Dominican Republic.

    Image taken from
    a page from ambarazul.com.

    If you have seen the movie, Jurassic Park, then you may have realized that some ideas presented in the movie could be misunderstood and taken as fact not fiction. This movie, based on a book by Michael Crichton, explained how to create dinosaurs with DNA from a mosquito that was trapped in a small piece of amber. The first created reality was that they found the amber in the Dominican Republic. Remember from the geologic section of this webpage that Dominican amber is only about 20-40 million years old. The last dinosaur of the type showed in the movie died 65 million years ago. Extraction of DNA from insects found within the amber has been studied by a number of scientists, and many scientists have come up with the same conclusions. First, the extraction of DNA from amber entombed fauna is prone to contamination. Second, in reality, no scientist has been able to extract dinosaur DNA from any insect. The likelihood of this happening in the near future does not look bright either (Platt, 1998).

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    References and Links

    Amber World Museum Santo Domingo Dominican Republic. 2002. Caribbean Virtual Design. WWW URL: amberworldmuseum.com. Accessed 5/2006.

    AmbarAzul Blue Amber. 2005. WWW URL: ambarazul.com. Accessed 5/2006.

    Lipkin, Christine. 2002. Dominican Amber. Fossil Lagerstatten. WWW URL: http://palaeo.gly.bris.ac.uk/palaeofiles/Lagerstatten/DomAmber/. Accessed 5/2006.

    Platt, Garry. September 1997. Dominican Republic Amber. WWW URL: http://www.gplatt.demon.co.uk/dominica.htm. Accessed 5/2006.

    Platt, Garry. June 1998. Dinosaurs from Amber. WWW URL: http://www.gplatt.demon.co.uk/amberdna.htm. Accessed 5/2006.

    Armstrong, W. P. Summer, 1998. Nature's Transparent Tomb! Amber from the New World Tropics! Volume 7, Number 2, WWW URL: http://www.waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0702.htm. Accessed 5/2006.

    Aber, S. W. 2005. World of Amber. WWW URL: http://www.emporia.edu/earthsci/amber/amber.htm. Accessed 5/2006.

    Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. 2006. Amber. WWW URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/amber. Accessed 5/2006.

    Goldman, Y. Caribbean Amber from the Dominican Republic. WWW URL: http://snakefly.tripod.com/dr-amber.htm. Accessed 5/2006.

    Dominican Amber Museum. Puerto Plata. WWW URL: http://ambermuseum.com.

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    © Notice: This page was created by Scott Smith for GO 340 Gemstones and Gemology, and presented for the use and benefit of students enrolled at Emporia State University, but can be viewed by others. Any use of text, imagery or curriculum materials is prohibited without permission of the course webmaster, email Scott Smith at saber@emporia.edu.

    Created 5/2006; last update May 2, 2006.