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amber, fossilized tree resin. Amber can vary in color from yellow to red to green and blue. The best commercial amber is transparent, but some varieties are cloudy. To be called amber, the resin must be several million years old; recently hardened resins are called copals.
The tree species that produced amber are now extinct. They included cedars and other conifers and broadleaved trees. The most famous source of the world's amber is the Baltic coast of Germany. Amber is also found off the coasts of Sicily and England and in Lebanon and Jordan and Myanmar (Burma). In the Western Hemisphere, there are rich deposits in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the state of New Jersey.
Amber is of interest both for its decorative value and for the ancient, once-living inclusions that it preserves. Capable of being highly polished, it is the oldest decorative substance known. It was familiar to Paleolithic peoples and to the Greeks and Romans, who used it extensively in jewelry. Pliny recounts several instances of its artistic uses. Amber is used in the manufacture of beads, amulets, mouthpieces, cigar and cigarette holders, pipes, and other small ornamental objects.
When rubbed with a cloth, amber becomes charged with static electricity; Thales was familiar with its electrical properties. When destructively distilled, amber yields acetic, butyric, valeric, and other acids; water; and hydrocarbons. Baltic amber also contains succinic acid and is often called succinite. An essential oil (amber oil) is obtained from amber.
Leaves, flowers, insects, and small animals are frequently found in amber. Older fossils trapped in this way often represent the sole specimen of an extinct species. The oldest known fossils of arthropods (see Arthropoda) are entombed in amber that dates from the Triassic period (230 million years ago). Especially rich beds of amber in Lebanon and New Jersey have yielded many Cretaceous species dating back as much as 135 million years. Because of amber's preservative qualities, the DNA of the specimens trapped inside is intact, affording scientists a unique opportunity to study the DNA of extinct species.
See D. Grimaldi, Amber: Window on the Past (1996); G. and R. Poinar, The Amber Forest (1999).
Amber(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
There are two stones associated with Witches, amber and jet, neither of them actually "stones" in the true sense. Jet, a fossilized wood, was known as black amber, in the Middle Ages. Amber itself is actually a fossilized resin, from extinct coniferous trees that flourished along the Baltic coast and other areas seventy to forty million years ago. It may be opaque or transparent, the opaqueness due to tiny air bubbles in the sap.
In Greek mythology, amber was thought to be formed by the tears of Phaëton's two sisters, the Heliads, who were turned to poplar trees while weeping over Phaëton's death. In Scandinavian mythology, it was formed by the tears shed by Freya when Odin wandered out into the world. In Homer's Odyssey, Book XVIII (c. 700 BCE), Odysseus's wife, Penelope, is presented with "an elaborate chain strung with beads of amber like golden sunshine."
Amber occurs as irregularly shaped drops in all shades of yellow, from the lightest to the darkest yellow-brown. It is also found, although rarely, in opaque and translucent colors ranging from ruby red to iridescent green and blues. These color variations are due to the presence of foreign matter contained in the sap. Amber has been carved and used ornamentally in jewelry and such things as pipe mouthpieces. It may well have been the first gemlike material ever used for personal adornment.
Since the Stone Age, the wearing of amber as an amulet has been considered a cure for numerous illnesses and is thought to be especially efficacious for asthma. Among the many diseases believed to be affected by amber are goiter, deafness, jaundice, throat ailments, poor eyesight, erysipelas (an acute bacterial disease marked by fever and skin inflammation), catarrh, headaches, digestive problems, and teething problems in children. Because of this, amber was thought to bring good luck and protection. Consequently, many talismans were made of amber.
One reason that amber was held in such esteem is that when rubbed it develops negative electrical static, causing it to attract small pieces of paper. The Greek word for amber was elektron, from which we get the word "electricity."
Although legends have referred to amber as being the solidified urine of the lynx (one of its names is lyncurius) or petrified seal and dolphin sperm, the Greeks and the Romans both knew that it did in fact come from tree resin.
The Romans often used amber during the reign of the Emperor Nero, who likened his wife's hair to its color. The Chinese use it extensively in the making of incense and perfume. Since Roman times amber has also been thought to be a protection against witchcraft, despite the fact that it is a favorite jewel for Witches themselves.
a mineral from the class of organic compounds; the fossil resin of coniferous trees, primarily from the Paleogenic period. The term “amber” is sometimes incorrectly used to denote any mineral resin of Cretaceous to Neogenic age that resemble amber in appearance but differ from it in chemical structure.
Chemically, amber consists of 76–81 percent C, 10–10.5 percent H, 7.5–13.0 percent O, and tenths of 1 percent of N and S. An amorphous network polymer, it occurs in the form of incrustations, drops, and lenticular molds of “resin pockets” and their fragments, measuring 0.02–50 cm (usually 2–30 mm); the maximum weight of a single sample is 10 kg. Amber is usually covered with a thick opaque gray or brown crust formed from oxidation products. Rarely colorless, it is more often milky white or reddish brown (oxidized amber); it is usually yellow or, very rarely, appears blue or green in reflected light. Jet or stantienite, both of which occur together with amber, are erroneously called black amber.
Amber is either transparent or turbid, and the degree of turbidity determines the following types of amber: cloudy amber (translucent); bastard amber, which transmits light in thin fragments; osseus amber; and foamy amber (opaque). Some amber contains inclusions of fossil insects and plants. Amber yields a specific infrared spectrum, within the 700–1900 cm–1 region, which makes it possible to clearly distinguish it from amber-like fossil resins closely resembling amber in appearance.
Amber has a hardness of 2–2.5 on Mohs’ scale and a density of 1,000–1,100 kg/m3. It readily lends itself to machining, except for the foamy variety. The fracture is usually conchoidal; more rarely it is even. In foamy amber, it is earthy. Amber melts when heated and decomposes at 300°–340°C. It softens at 140°C when there is no access to air, and fine pieces can be pressed together into larger blocks called pressed amber; turbid varieties are, in this case, converted into transparent ones. Amber exhibits good dielectric properties.
Amber is formed during the specific fossilization (seePETRIFICATION) of resin as a result of the polycondensation of resinous acids and terpenes. The principal conditions for fossilization are prolonged oxidation of the “amber forest” in the soil and subsequent redeposition with burial in coastal-marine, lagoon, and delta deposits with a weakly oxidizing alkaline medium. The principal amber beds are found in Paleogenic deposits along the Baltic Sea; they also occur in the USSR in Oligocene sandy and clayey rocks in the vicinity of the city of Kiev and in the Pripiat’ River basin, as well as in glacial deposits (the Baltic republics, the Byelorussian SSR, the Ukrainian SSR). In addition, they are found in glacial deposits in the People’s Republic of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and other countries. The largest commercial amber deposit is located in Kaliningrad Oblast (Iantarnyi settlement).
Amber was used for making ornaments in antiquity—the Neolithic period, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was especially widely used in the manufacture of jewelry and objets d’art. As an ornamental stone, it was used in the interior finishing of unique structures, such as the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo (now the city of Pushkin), whose amber wall panels and furniture were removed during World War II (1941–5) by the fascist German troops. Beautiful collections of articles made from amber are found at the Hermitage and the Armory in the USSR. Pressed amber, called ambroid, is used in the manufacture of insulators and inexpensive ornaments. Poor-quality amber—approximately 60 percent of the yield—is subjected to dry distillation, yielding amber pitch, which serves as raw material in the production of varnishes and paints, small quantities of succinic acid, and oil of amber, among other products.
REFERENCESSavkevich, S. S. lantar’. Leningrad, 1970.
Baltiiskii samotsvet. Kaliningrad, 1976.
S. S. SAVKEVICH
There is an implementation for Macintosh.
["Amber", L. Cardelli, TR Bell Labs, 1984].
2. An object-oriented distributed language based on a subset of C++, developed at Washington University in the late 1980s.