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Kansas Amber

Jelinite, a rare fossil resin from Kansas.
This specimen is approximately 4 x 1.5 x 2.5 cm.

Geographic Location Geologic Location Resin Properties Life in Amber

Collections Housing Amber References

Visit a new site recounting our Search for Kansas Amber. If you have success, present or past, in obtaining Kansas amber, please contact me at

If you read Polish, go to a Kansas Amber article at, by Barbara Kosmowska-Ceranowicz and Susan Ward Aber, that appeared in the Polski Jubiler, the Polish Jeweller.

Geographic Location

Kansas is located in the center of the continental United States, at approximately 38 degrees north latitude, 98 degrees west longitude. It is a state rich in fossils and natural resources. Natural resources for the state include coal, gypsum, lead, zinc, chalk, salt, limestone, sandstone, clay, sand, oil, and gas. The Kansas Geological Survey has a site for investigating natural resources and fossil life. Fossils found in the state include a variety of invertebrates, from cockroaches to mollusks, and vertebrates, from pterodactyls to mosasaurs. Kansas fossils may be seen at several Kansas museum and online websites, such as the Johnston Geology Museum in Emporia, the Sternberg Natural History Museum in Hays, and Dyche Natural History Museum in Lawrence.
Although rare, Kansas is also the site of a Cretaceous age fossil resin. Buddhue (1938a) initially proposed the resin be called kansasite (p. 8). He later renamed the fossil resin jelinite, in honor of the collector George Jelinek, an active collector and politician (Buddhue, 1938b, p. 9).

This resin was collected within the Smoky Hills physiographic province, which consists of rocks that were deposited on or near a sea floor during the Cretaceous Period. From east to west across this rolling topography, hills are capped with sandstone to limestone.

Physiographic province map of Kansas.
Image taken from the Kansas Geological Survey.

Early settlers to Kansas used the native stone for tools and weapons, and the natural rock outcrops for lookouts and art. Pictures carved in rock exposures, called petroglyphs, are found in the Smoky Hills near to the fossil resin locality. Settlers found this area rich with 100 million year old fossils, from marine fish and seashells, to bird footprints and impressions of leaves.

Ellsworth County, Kansas.
Image taken from the Kansas Geological Survey.
The leaf impressions, primarily in sandstone, are of trees similar to modern oak, willow, poplar, laurel, sarsaparillas, magnolias, and sassafras, none of which are native to this area today. These trees lived during a warmer and wetter time, on an island in the sea or along a beach, coastal stream, or lake.
Aralia Wellingtoniana leaf impression, Ellsworth County, Kansas.
Image taken from the
Kansas Geological Survey.
Politically, Kansas is divided into 105 units referred to as counties. The fossil resin was reportedly collected near Ellsworth, Kansas and first mentioned in the literature by Buddhue (1938a). Ellsworth is the county seat of government for Ellsworth County (see Fig. 4).

Geopolitical map of Kansas.
Image taken from the KGS.

Smoky Hills area with
Ellsworth County labeled EW.
Image taken from Kansas Geological Survey.
When Kansas' fossil resin, jelinite, was actively collected, the outcrop was along the mature, meandering Smoky Hill River. A river that would sometimes flood in times of high rainfall. Combining this occasional natural disaster, with a larger populated city in the county directly east, provided the reason to create a reservoir. Construction on the dam for Kanopolis Reservoir began in 1948 and the lake started to fill in 1951. The artificial lake can easily be seen on the Ellsworth County land use map below.

Land Use Map for Ellsworth County, Kansas.
Image taken from the Kansas Geological Survey.
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Geologic Location

The oldest rock in Kansas outcrops in the eastern part of the state, while the youngest rock is found in western Kansas. The northeast corner of the state is draped in glacial deposits. Although topographically the elevation rises from east to west, structurally the rock layers dip down from east to west.

Geologic map of Kansas.
Image taken from the Kansas Geological Survey.

The Smoky Hills physiographic province is made up primarily of Cretaceous age rock. The Kansas fossil resin was placed in the Mesozoic, because of this stratigraphic position in sequence and its association with wood identified by George F. Beck as "Auracaria" (Buddhue, 1938b, p. 9, & Langenheim, Buddhue, & Jelinek, 1965, p. 283). Schoewe (1942) and Tolsted & Swineford (1957) placed the fossil resin locality specifically in the Cretaceous.

The Cretaceous Period is a geologic time designation from 144 to 66 million years ago, when much of central and western Kansas was under water. The relatively deep sea advanced and retreated, leaving behind sandstones and shales of the Lower Cretaceous, such as the Dakota Formation, and the Upper Cretaceous limestones and chalk of the Greenhorn and Niobrara Chalk Formations. Much of the Dakota Formation consists of colorful clay shales, as well as beds of lignite that were used by early pioneers for heating (The Geologic History of Kansas).
Two identical maps showing the extent of Cretaceous Sea.
The right map has North America superimposed and Kansas'
location shown in red. Image taken from the Kansas Geological Survey
The Lower Cretaceous consists of the Cheyenne Sandstone, Kiowa Formation, and Dakota Formation, in ascending order. This sequence of rock represents a transgressive-regressive cycle of sedimentation and jelinite was found in the Kiowa Formation. The Cheyenne is a nonmarine sandstone (Albian) deposited in fluvial and estuarine environments. The Kiowa Formation (late Albian) represents a transgressive phase in which the sea advanced. These rocks in north central Kansas mark the eastern edge of marginal marine and continental environments. The Dakota Formation (spanning the Albian-Cenomanian boundary) represents the climax of a regressive phase, where the sea retreated or became smaller. The Dakota Formation rocks are believed to be beach sands and sediments accumulated from rivers draining into the early Cretaceous sea. The sandstones are composed of quartz grains cemented with iron oxide, while giant sandstone concretions, which resemble mushrooms, are cemented with calcium carbonate.

The map below shows the area in question, with the Smoky Hill River and Kanopolis Lake trending northwest-southeast. Lower Cretaceous rock units are outcropping next to the river and lake.

Mushroom Rock State Park,
Ellsworth County, Kansas,
Emporia State University students.
Photo © Michael Morales (1999)

Geology of Ellsworth County, Kansas
Image taken from the Kansas Geological Survey.

Kansas amber was reported to be found at a cliff exposure along this river, in a shale overlain by 4 inches of a lignite ("semi-coal and charred wood"), some 60 feet below the land surface, and 3 feet above water level (Buddhue, 1938a, p. 7). Langenheim, et. al. (1965) surmised the resin's source to be within the Kiowa Shale, Terra Cotta Clay Member, or Janssen Clay Member. The Kiowa Shale, in this vicinity, had no mention in the literature of lignite, whereas both the Terra Cotta and Janssen Clay were reported to contain lignite, fossil leaves, and lignitized wood fragments (Langenheim, et. al., 1965, p. 286). The Janssen and Terra Cotta type localities were near to the amber collection site and based on this, Langenheim initially speculated the resin deposit's source was most likely the Terra Cotta Clay Member (p. 286). Based on a detailed stratigraphic description of the north bluff of the Smoky Hill River, 2 miles west of the jelinite collection site, Langenheim (1965) concluded the fossil resin was most likely obtained from the Kiowa Shale (p. 286). Knowing the resin collection location, the Kiowa Shale was probably at river level, with the Terra Cotta Clay above by some 50 feet.

Langenheim, et. al.(1965) reported the precise location where Jelinek collected the Kansas amber as, NW1/4, SW1/4, Sec. 18, T. 16. S., R. 6 W., Ellsworth County, Kansas (p. 284). It was collected from bedrock, at the base of a high cliff exposure of shale and sandstone, at the edge of the Smoky Hill River (Langenheim, et. al., 1965, p. 284). The bedrock consisted of a "layer of soft sulfur-colored clay bounded by two thin lignite layers" which were about 4 inches apart and were exposed some 200 feet in length (Langenheim, et. al., 1965, p. 284).

Kanopolis Lake, Ellsworth County, Kansas
Photo © Michael Morales (1999)
Jelinek reported finding the resin near the center of the outcrop, at a place where the lower layer lignite dipped down creating a clay thickening of about 12 inches (Langenheim, et. al., 1965, p. 284). This collection site was flooded when Kanopolis Dam was closed and Kanopolis Reservoir was created from the Smoky Hill River. Waggoner (1996) reported the original collection site to be covered by a landslide as well as under the Kanopolis Reservoir (p. 20). Although the initial collection site is inaccessible, occasional amber finds have been reported elsewhere in the area. All of the recent jelinite finds reported to this author have proved to be false.

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Jelinite Properties

According to Buddhue (1938a), jelinite's properties include: brittle tenacity, hardness of 3, conchoidal to uneven fracture, specific gravity of 1.05 or 1.06, a brilliant bluish green fluorescence, and a strong resinous odor when heated, with a smoky flame (p. 8). Ether softened the surface and dissolved a small amount; the resin was unaffected by nitric acid, acetic acid, dilute potassium hydroxide, 28% ammonium hydroxide, or acetone; and the melted resin created a brown oil that gave a "weak succinyl-fluoescin test for succinic acid" (Buddhue, 1938a, p. 8). It is about 38 percent soluble in cold chloroform (Buddhue, 1938b, p. 10).

Buddhue (1938a) reported several shades of both yellows and browns, and that the resin was streaked and banded (p. 7). Buddhue (1938a) described dark brown, transparent, thin flakes, of amber, as well as more massive specimens with a dense cloudy appearance, which he attributed to a "multitude of opaque, oval inclusions with their long axes parallel" (p. 7).

Approximately 3.5 x 3.5 x 1.5 cm
"The lumps appear to be flattened spheres and are covered with a gray crust a little over 0.5 mm thick. The edges of the nodules have deep cracks which suggest that the lumps of resin once were nearly spherical. The bottoms of the cracks sometimes have a thin, gray, secondary crust and one was found to be full of pyrite. A few fragments of carbonized wood were found partly embedded in the resin, and one fragment that looks like charcoal... " (Buddhue, 1938a, p. 7, 8).

Approximately 2 x 1.5 x 1 cm
Schoewe (1942) described the Kansas amber as
"light butterscotch in color or some other shade of brown. It is waxy, shines as if polished, is cloudy to translucent, and is made up of more or less concentric bands somewhat like agate. The amber has a hardness of about 3... It is brittle and breaks with a conchoidal or shell-like fracture. It will flake or chip just as flint does when making an arrowhead..." (p. 262).

Waggoner (1996) described jelinite as "yellow to dark brown, sometimes thinly banded, opaque and often 'fatty' in color and texture, and quite brittle" (p. 20). He speculated that this amber had received little attention from mineralogists and paleontologists because it was not obviously fossiliferous nor suited for jewelry (Waggoner, 1996, p. 20).

Amber is classified and described by geologic or stratigraphic occurrence, associated paleontological data, and detailed chemical analysis. Infrared absorption spectroscopy (IRS) is one chemical analytic technique used since the 1960s to establish botanical affinity (Langenheim, 1969) or for provenience analysis of archaeological amber artifacts (Beck, Wilbur, and Meret, 1964; Beck and Shennan, 1991), as well as in cataloging and classifying resin types (Langenheim and Beck, 1968; Kosmowska-Ceranowicz, 1999).

Jelinite's IR curves were similar to spectra for: retinite from Cedar Lake, Manitoba, Canada; retinite from Grassy Lake, Alberta, Canada; Lower Cretaceous retinite from Azerbaijan and Romania; Late Tertiary ambrite from the Auckland province, New Zealand; Cretaceous ajkaite from Ajka; Cretaceous walchowite from Moravia, Czech Republic; trinkerite from Gams, Austria; and resins from France, such as the resin from Auvergne (Kosmowska-Ceranowicz, 1999, p. 109, 112, 113). All of these spectra can be compared to that of the resin of living Agatis australis. These similarities in IR data, are consistent with Buddhue (1938b) and Langenheim and Beck (1968) who suggested jelinite and other fossil resins originated from the Araucariaceae in spite of the fact that these gymnosperms no longer occur in the Northern Hemisphere.
IR curve for similar fossil resins: Kansas, Cedar Lake and Grassy Lake, Canada.
Taken from: Aber and Kosmowksa-Ceranowicz, 2001, p. 31.

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Life in Kansas Amber

Waggoner (1996) placed jelinite in the middle Cretaceous and believed the amber to be similar to all Cretaceous amber from North America, originating from trees of Araucariaceae (p. 21). Conifer pollen, as well as sheathed bacteria, morphologically similar to the living genus Leptothrix, and testate amoebae, resembling the modern Pontigulasia and Nebela, were found in the amber (Waggoner, 1996, p. 21, 22). Fossil bacteria and testate amoebae in jelinite used to be available for viewing online, but Waggoner's abstract is at

Waggoner (1996) stated his discovery of testate amoebae, similar to extant species of Nebela, was the oldest known record of this genus occurrence (p. 22). He speculated on the paleoenvironment based on the microfossil assemblage to be aquatic, only "moderately organically enriched, but enriched in iron and other minerals" (Waggoner, 1996, p. 24). Waggoner (1996) went on to state the paleohabitat was relatively transient or variable, and that the lack of soil particles or plant debris eliminated a soil or litter paleohabitat (p. 24).

"The microorganisms were presumably trapped in resin flowing into a freshwater puddle, lake or pond, a scenario which also accounts for the numerous air and water bubbles in the amber. The water then would have diffused out of the resin as it solidified... Alternatively, the microorganisms might have grown in a small pocket of water, perhaps in a crevice in the tree bark...however, this does not account for the large, fairly homogeneous pieces of cloudy jelinite; these suggest that the aquatic habitat was not a small crevice. It has been suggested that aquatic microfossils in amber indicate resin flows from swamp trees analogous to modern bald cypress.... The association of jelinite with lignite beds further suggests swampy conditions in the area" (Waggoner, 1996, p. 24).

Waggoner (1996) concluded the Kansas amber microfossil assemblage most closely resembled the Triassic amber of Bavaria and was nearly contemporaneous with Cenomanian amber from northwestern France (p. 24).

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Collections Housing Kansas Amber

Approximately 4 x 3 x 1.5 cm
The jelinite shown to the left is a part of the collection at Emporia State University, as are all the amber specimen images shown above. The amber in this collection was donated by A. C. Carpenter, and includes rather small yellowish fatty specimens and some darker orangish brown types. The Kansas Geological Survey has reported on Kansas amber and an image is available at this site. The KGS specimen was described as half the size of a ping pong ball, from Ellsworth County, and on loan from members of the Lawrence Gem and Mineral Society (Rex Buchanan, pers. comm., 12/15/2000).

Jelinek contributed specimens to the Museum of Paleontology, University of California at Berkeley, the British Museum of Natural History, and a small piece, collected by A. C. Carpenter from the south side of the Smoky Hill River southeast of Kanopolis, to the Kansas Geological Survey (not the specimen shown above) (Langenheim, et. al., 1965, p. 287). Kansas amber may also be found at the Museum of the Earth in Warsaw, Poland, and the Smithsonian (Dr. Francis Heuber, pers. comm., 10/98).

Visit a new site recounting our Search for Kansas Amber. If you have success, present or past, in obtaining Kansas amber, please contact me at

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Created December, 2000. copyright 2001-2006 © Susan Ward Aber All rights reserved.