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NEWS – Ancient, Long-Fingered Lizard Trapped in Amber

In a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes, researchers are trying to figure out exactly when and where in the world a long-fingered lizard got trapped in the sticky sap of a tree.

Over time, that sap, or tree resin, turned into amber, preserving the lizard’s remains, including its textured skin. This unique lizard-amber block somehow came into the possession of a man who donated it to the Miller Museum of Geology at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada in the 1980s, but the man didn’t report the artifact’s age or provenance.

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Amber History


Is fossilized tree resin, which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Much valued from antiquity to the present as a gemstone, amber is made into a variety of decorative objects. Amber is used in jewelry. It has also been used as a healing agent in folk medicine.

There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents. Because it originates as a soft, sticky tree resin, amber sometimes contains animal and plant material as inclusions. Amber occurring in coal seams is also called resinite, and the term ambrite is applied to that found specifically within New Zealand coal seams.


The English word amber derives from Arabic ʿanbar  (cognate with Middle Persian ambar,  via Middle Latin ambar and Middle French ambre. The word was adopted in Middle English in the 14th century as referring to what is now known as ambergris (ambre gris or "grey amber"), a solid waxy substance derived from the sperm whale. In the Romance languages, the sense of the word had come to be extended to Baltic amber (fossil resin) from as early as the late 13th century. At first called white or yellow amber (ambre jaune), this meaning was adopted in English by the early 15th century. As the use of ambergris waned, this became the main sense of the word.

The two substances ("yellow amber" and "grey amber") conceivably became associated or confused because they both were found washed up on beaches. Ambergris is less dense than water and floats, whereas amber is too dense to float, though less dense than stone.

The classical names for amber, Latin electrum and Ancient Greek ἤλεκτρον (ēlektron), are connected to a term ἠλέκτωρ (ēlektōr) meaning "beaming Sun".  According to myth, when Phaëton son of Helios (the Sun) was killed, his mourning sisters became poplar trees, and their tears became elektron, amber.


Amber is discussed by Theophrastus in the 4th century BC, and again by Pytheas (c. 330 BC) whose work "On the Ocean" is lost, but was referenced by Pliny the Elder, according to whose The Natural History (in what is also the earliest known mention of the name Germania):[12]

Pytheas says that the Gutones, a people of Germany, inhabit the shores of an estuary of the Ocean called Mentonomon, their territory extending a distance of six thousand stadia; that, at one day's sail from this territory, is the Isle of Abalus, upon the shores of which, amber is thrown up by the waves in spring, it being an excretion of the sea in a concrete form; as, also, that the inhabitants use this amber by way of fuel, and sell it to their neighbors, the Teutones.

Earlier[13] Pliny says that a large island of three days' sail from the Scythian coast called Balcia by Xenophon of Lampsacus, author of a fanciful travel book in Greek, is called Basilia by Pytheas. It is generally understood to be the same as Abalus. Based on the amber, the island could have been Heligoland, Zealand, the shores of Bay of Gdansk, the Sambia Peninsula or the Curonian Lagoon, which were historically the richest sources of amber in northern Europe. It is assumed that there were well-established trade routes for amber connecting the Baltic with the Mediterranean (known as the "Amber Road"). Pliny states explicitly that the Germans export amber to Pannonia, from where it was traded further abroad by the Veneti. The ancient Italic peoples of southern Italy were working amber, the most important examples are on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Siritide to Matera. Amber used in antiquity as at Mycenae and in the prehistory of the Mediterranean comes from deposits of Sicily.

Pliny also cites the opinion of Nicias, according to whom amber:

is a liquid produced by the rays of the sun; and that these rays, at the moment of the sun's setting, striking with the greatest force upon the surface of the soil, leave upon it an unctuous sweat, which is carried off by the tides of the Ocean, and thrown up upon the shores of Germany.

Besides the fanciful explanations according to which amber is "produced by the Sun", Pliny cites opinions that are well aware of its origin in tree resin, citing the native Latin name of succinum (sūcinum, from sucus "juice").[14] He writes:

Amber is produced from a marrow discharged by trees belonging to the pine genus, like gum from the cherry, and resin from the ordinary pine. It is a liquid at first, which issues forth in considerable quantities, and is gradually hardened [...] Our forefathers, too, were of opinion that it is the juice of a tree, and for this reason gave it the name of "succinum" and one great proof that it is the produce of a tree of the pine genus, is the fact that it emits a pine-like smell when rubbed, and that it burns, when ignited, with the odour and appearance of torch-pine wood.

He also states that amber is also found in Egypt and in India, and he even refers to the electrostatic properties of amber, by saying that "in Syria the women make the whorls of their spindles of this substance, and give it the name of harpax [from ἁρπάζω, "to drag"] from the circumstance that it attracts leaves towards it, chaff, and the light fringe of tissues.”

Pliny says that the German name of amber was glæsum, "for which reason the Romans, when Germanicus Cæsar commanded the fleet in those parts, gave to one of these islands the name of Glæsaria, which by the barbarians was known as Austeravia". This is confirmed by the recorded Old High German glas and Old English glær for "amber" (c.f. glass). In Middle Low German, amber was known as berne-, barn-, börnstēn. The Low German term became dominant also in High German by the 18th century, thus modern German Bernstein besides Dutch Dutch barnsteen.

The Baltic Lithuanian term for amber is gintaras and Latvian dzintars. They, and the Slavic jantar or Hungarian gyanta ('resin'), are thought to originate from Phoenician jainitar ("sea-resin").[citation needed]

Early in the nineteenth century, the first reports of amber from North America came from discoveries in New Jersey along Crosswicks Creek near Trenton, at Camden, and near Woodbury.

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Grading Amber


Although consumers are most familiar with yellow and golden amber, the gem can be white, yellow, and orange to reddish brown. Reddish amber is more valuable than golden amber, which is more valuable than yellow amber. Rarely, strong fluorescence can give amber a bluish or greenish appearance, which when attractive can be highly valuable. Oxidation might cause the material to change color over time. Choosing a color is personal choice although when it comes to Blue amber color grading is very important. Dominican Blue amber comes is numerous shades of blue, the more extreme the blue the higher there price.

Cutting and polishing amber for jewelry makes it more susceptible to oxidation by removing or thinning the harder exterior surface. Fine translucent yellow or orange amber can gradually darken to reddish brown and eventually black


Transparent amber is more valuable than cloudy material. An interesting plant or animal inclusion adds to the value of an amber specimen. Dominican Republic has the clearest amber in the world, Grading the clarity is quite a task,

100% Clarity is very rare, the larger the specimen the more difficult it is to find.


Amber is commonly polished into a free-form shape that follows the original shape of the rough. It might then be set into jewelry or drilled for stringing. Cutting styles for amber include beads, cabochons, and free-form polished pieces. Amber might be faceted, but this is rare.

Carat Weight

Amber has a lower relative density than salt water so it can feel very light, even in large sizes. This makes it possible to use fairly large sizes in amber jewelry.


Treatment by careful heating in rapeseed (canola) oil can clarify cloudy amber somewhat. The resulting amber sometimes exhibits crack-like circular marks called sun spangles. Green amber's color can be produced by treatment with heat and pressure.


Identifying Fakes & The Biggest Amber Scam No One Talks About

When looking into purchasing amber do your diligent research. Dominican blue amber has become a hot commodity of late and it fetches a high premium mostly in Asia and eastern Europe. Know what you're buying and once you receive it know how to examine and test the amber. look at where the seller is located. China and India sell the most fake Amber on Ebay and in the big cities around the world I have ever seen and they will advertise it as "Real" "Authentic" "Genuine" "Grade A" "Natural" "Baltic Amber or and Dominican". What they do not say is that the item is an "Authentically Real & Natural Genuine Grade A piece of plastic!!!! For someone who knows what real Amber looks like, a picture is worth a thousand words, but for those who dont, it can and is very deceiving. The most common and easiest way to identify fakes are the ones with bugs and sun spots in them.

First, the Amber with bugs. When bugs/insects got caught up in the real Resin/Amber, their legs, antenna, and wings are caught in distressing character. The fake Amber bugs/insects look as if they were paid big bucks for their frozen pose in time, every part of there body is displayed perfectly. The same principle should be taken into concideration with flowers and scorpions.

Second, Amber with Sun Spots, also referred to as Sun Burst. Not all Genuine Amber have them, please keep that in mind. In real Amber, these inclusions are very small, too small in size and are irregular. In the fake Amber, this is hard to achieve. The fake Amber will have large disc shapes that are very uniform and perfect looking.

Third, This is the biggest worldwide Amber scam and no one talks about it!!!. Pendants, earrings, bracelets and rings that are stated to be red/cherry, blue, green and cognac. This is a more clever technique using real Amber. The real Amber used in this technique is usually lemon/yellow or light honey in colour. What is done to produce the fake red/cherry, blue green and cognac is: the back side of each piece is burned and/or has a jewellers colour paste that reflects through the light coloured Amber to give these colour effects and is used almost in all Amber jewellery that have a silver, gold or some other type setting. There are several ways to identify this. Look at the back of the piece, and you will see it is very different from the front side. You will see if it was burned or has a smooth dark coloured finish and that is what is giving the colour that is not real. The second way is, turn the piece sideways and view the Amber stones from side to side and you will see that the real Amber colour is lemon/yellow or light honey. This technique is widely used to reduce the cost of maufacturing the jewellery an is past on to the consumer as real red/cherry blue green and cognac, at higher prices and making it appear as if you are getting a great deal. Using these genuine colours would be very very expensive. If you already own Amber jewelry or are buying it in person, check using the method I just described and if you are purchasing this kind of jewellery online, on Ebay or any other aution/website, ask if it is "colour enhanced", because that is never stated. These pieces are still gorgeous, but your not getting what is advertised and you are being duped with real Amber with fake colours!!! The majority of this jewellery is manufactured in Poland and other New England states and Thailand. Sorry sellers, someone had to blow lid about this. I will be writing another review, dedicated specifically to this, to help consumers know what they are buying.

How Amber Was Form

Amber is one of the few precious substances on earth we consider a gem which is not of mineral origin. There are a couple of scientific theories as to how Amber came to be. I will share the most popular and widely discussed theory here. When a tree is injured or is subjected to a radical climate change, it will produce resin. The radical climate change that took place millions of years ago, during different periods in time, produced large amounts of resin. Amber deposits and its availablity, scarcity and protection will be discussed later and that is some amazing information in itself. Many large Amber deposit are sea born, meaning that rivers and stream carried the Amber to seas and oceans. The most famous and sought after is Baltic Amber from the Baltic Sea and is considered the finest Amber in the world. There are Amber deposits worldwide that run in large veins underground similiar to that of minerals. It is widely known that Amber was produced from conifer trees, mainly the Pinus Succinifera because of its large secretions of resin, conifers are needle bearing trees. However it is known by certain colors that deciduous trees are included such as cherry and plum trees. Deciduous are leaf bearing trees. Sub tropical Amber came from a wide variety of conifer and deciduous trees.



These are samples of fake amber sold on eBay On the left, sell as "10mm Natural Dominican Amber" $99 plus shipping from china. The right sells as  "14mm AAA Dominican Sky Blue amber beads sphere ball bracelet" $87 from China. To put this in prospective, the going rate of one 10mm bead (apron. .6g) in AAA Dominican Blue Amber sells for $450 per gram purchasing the amber directly from the owners of the mines. Then it gets sold to dealers and eventually the consumer. So getting back to the 10mm bracelet. This bracelet in real Dominican blue Amber will cost the consumer $6500 to $8000 US dollars. These are the facts so don't get fooled.


Amber is an amorphous (non-crystalline) mixture of organic compounds, including hydrocarbons, resins, succinic acid, and oils. Most of this substance comes from the preserved resin of the pine species Pinus succinifera. However, other ancient tree species have also produced the material. Amber has been preserved for at least 30 million years. Preserved resin younger than that is known as copal (which is also a term used for organic gem material from the copal tree). Although amber is commonly referred to as fossilized resin, it’s not a fossil in the strictest sense. Most fossils begin when an animal or plant is buried in the earth. Over millennia, the organic material in fossils is slowly replaced with elements from the mineral kingdom. In contrast, amber’s organic elements haven’t been replaced. Instead, the resin has undergone a chemical transformation into a polymer, a natural plastic.

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About Amber

In a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes, researchers are trying to figure out exactly when and where in the world a long-fingered lizard got trapped in the sticky sap of a tree.

Over time, that sap, or tree resin turned into amber, preserving the lizard's remains, including its textured skin. This unique lizard-amber block somehow came into the possession of a man who donated it to the Miller Museum of Geology at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, in the 1980s, but the man didn't report the artifact's age or provenance.

"The man who donated it died, unfortunately," said Ellen Handyside, an undergraduate student studying geological engineering at Queen's University, who is leading the research into the amber-encased lizard. "We are really starting from scratch" in determining its history, she said. [In Photos: Amber Preserves Cretaceous Lizards]

Handyside began looking for clues by reading as many studies about amber as possible.

Then, she and her colleagues analyzed the chemical composition of the small, 4.7-inch-long (12 centimeters) piece of amber, learning two key facts: First, the amber was real, meaning "it proved it wasn't a fake," an important point given that so little was known about the sample, Handyside told Live Science. And second, "we found it did match up quite well to a Dominican [amber] sample," although the results weren't conclusive, she said.

The researchers also analyzed the amber's carbon and hydrogen isotopes (an isotope is a variation of an element that has a different number of neutrons in its nucleus). Results indicated that the amber was formed from the sticky resin of a flowering tree, or angiosperm.

Moreover, the isotopic results suggested that the tree (and the lizard, for that matter) lived in an area with a lot of rainfall and dated to the Neogene, a period that lasted from about 23 million to about 2.6 million years ago.

"It was an angiosperm-dominated, warm and wet environment," Handyside said.

Next, the scientific team realized that the 2.7-inch-long (7 cm) lizard was likely a gecko, according to a detailed, 3D, digital model of the animal's anatomy that the researchers created from high-resolution X-ray microscopy scans.

"We looked at the skull — the teeth are in place, the ear bones are there [and] we've got some flesh," Handyside said. "It's fantastic."

She said she plans to examine the gecko's anatomy in minute detail in the coming months, with the hope that she and her colleagues can figure out how the creature fits into the gecko family tree. But for now, she's calling it Spike.

A quick look at Spike's anatomy shows that it has "extremely elongated digits" and curved, Handyside said.

"When you think of a gecko, you think of short, stubby, fat digits and sticky pads. That's not what we're looking at," Handyside said. "We have something that is more arboreal."

If the gecko was a tree-dwelling creature, then its demise actually makes sense. "It's in a tree — it gets stuck in tree sap," Handyside said.

The research, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, was presented Aug. 24 at the 2017 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Calgary, Canada.

Original article on Live Science. Link:

Link to more news

Plastic Amber Imitation in a Rosary: GIA GEMS & GEMOLOGY, SPRING 2017, VOL. 53, NO. 1

Steam-Dyed Amber GIA GEMS & GEMOLOGY, SUMMER 2016, VOL. 52, NO. 2