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Hurricane Hugo Releases a Monster!

Just after Hurricane Hugo abated in 1989, a family surveying the damage and collecting shells, chanced upon a smooth, oval specimen in Bogue Sound, North Carolina. The unknown specimen was thrown into the boat and brought home along with other uncovered "treasures". The specimen was stored outside for weeks under a porch, then taken inside for an eight year vacation in a box. This discovery was initially believed to be amber, but has turned out to be a 7.9 pound or 3.6 kg specimen of copal. It was examined and identified as amber in March, 1997 by a gemologist from Raleigh, North Carolina, who used magnification, observation, and tested for specific gravity, hot point, and refractive index. Unfortunately the gemologist did not test the specimen for the possibility of copal.


Photo date 12/97; © by S.W. Aber

If this specimen was amber, it would have been the largest specimen from North Carolina and possibly all of North America. Finds of amber pieces in the United States have been on the order of 3 to 5 inches. The largest piece of amber in the world was discovered in 1991, Sarawak, Malaysia (Grimaldi, 1996). This amber specimen was lower to mid-Miocene in age and 150 pound or 68 kg. Beneath the surface rind of this North Carolina find, the copal appears reddish. The largest transparent, deep-red amber burmite is a 33.5 pound or 15 kg specimen given to the Natural History Museum in London in 1940 (Grimaldi, 1996).

North Carolina amber deposits have been described as small pellets to significant deposits, originating in lignite beds along the Neuse River near Goldsboro, Wayne County (Rice, 1993). There have also been reported finds from Pitt County. The amber weathers out of the Black Creek formation, upper Cretaceous, approximately 75 million years old. (Grimaldi, 1996) This formation is described as black to gray interbedded sands, clays, and marls. It is possible the flooding and erosion associated with Hurricane Hugo and other storms may release amber from the Black Creek formation, and transport it towards the Atlantic, depositing it in Bogue Sound near Atlantic Beach.

Walking barefoot through shallow water after a hurricane can be a worthwhile adventure! The copal may be worked "cold" and made into jewelry or carved into ornaments. This piece has a warm red glow that is irrestible to look at and touch. Read more about copal or see another North Carolina find.

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