Amber is fossilized resin from coniferous trees. Resin provides the tree with protection against insects and fungi. It is a sticky commodity that can easily entrap insects or plant debris. When it gets closed off from oxygen the resin starts to dry. The slow hardening process can take millions of years. We know this process as fossilisation. After several thousand years we speak of semi-fossilised resin that is know as copal. Unlike Amber, these pieces still contain liquid oils. When the resin is fully hardened without any liquid parts we call it Amber. The most well known fossilised resin is Baltic amber.
Origin of Baltic Amber
Conifers in the Scandinavian area produced most of the resin that became amber. This was during the Eocene era that lasted from 55.8 to 33.9 million years ago. In that time the climate was relatively mild. Huge coniferous forests characterised the Scandinavian area. However about 35 million years ago the sea level started to rise and the amber from the Scandinavian forest floor eroded. The predecessors of the Baltic rivers took the amber with them and deposited it at the southern estuaries. Later the amber eroded again by the river ‘Eridanos’. This was the predecessor of the current German rivers ‘Wezer’, ‘Eems’ and ‘Elbe’. Finally, the Scandinavian ice spread the amber over the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Up till the Netherlands and England, you can find pieces of amber on the beach after a stormy day.
We find Amber in different places. The main source of Baltic amber is located in Kaliningrad in the Yantarny mine. Large amber deposits are stored here deeply under the ground. From here they extract the amber from 30 metres deep in thick, small layers. Along the Baltic coast, you also have a good chance to find amber. because amber floats on salt water many pieces wash up on the beaches of Poland and Lithuania. Through history, people transported amber from these sites through entire Europe and beyond. We know these trade routes are as the Amber routes. Less-known amber deposits are located in the Dominican Republic, Myanmar, Lebanon and Indonesia.