Amber, is a fossilized resin of the conifer tree. Its colors range from a soft honey color, yellow, deep yellow, to a light brown and a deep reddish brown color to maybe even a bluish tint. Many times this resin carries small pieces of history. Be it an insect, a leaf, an air bubble, or just little specs of dust. Many times these small remnants can help in learning about the past because of the excellent way amber can preserve flora and fauna and important DNA said to be tens of millions of years old.
Amber is considered and used as a gemstone but it is not mineralized like a real gemstone. It is used in making jewelry and other ornamental objects and also for its mythical qualities. Many religious figurines and even walls in temples and cathedrals have been made with this resin. It has even been used in making pipe stems in the 1800's.
The ancient name for amber was "electron," the root word of electricity. Latin writers called amber electrum, sucinum (succinum), and glaesum or glesum. There are many other names for Amber throughout the world. Around 600 B.C., it was discovered that if an amber stone was rubbed fast the friction made it be electrically charged. It is said to hold a negative charge.
Throughout history Amber has been used in many medicines and cure-alls. Honey was mixed with powdered amber and prescribed for asthma, gout, and the black plague. Amber pendants were worn to preserve chastity, and used as rosary beads or talismans against evil and dark forces. Amber was burned along with non-fossil tree resins, such as frankincense, myrrh, and copal to dispel evil spirits and fumigate worldly nuisances such as mosquitos (it has a pine needle scent). Sailors burned amber on ships to drive away sea serpents and the perils of the deep. Today amber is still used as a medicine.
Ambergris, many times, can be confused with amber. Since both can be washed up on shore and they look alike it is understandable. But Ambergris comes from a sperm whale. Its a discharge from the intestines and when it is fresh it even smells like poop (or should I say fecal matter). As time passes it loses the stench and becomes harder. It also can have creatures embedded inside. It is used as a basis for perfumes and also can be burned as incense. Having raw ambergris in ones possession in USA can bring large fines as it is from an endangered species and violates the endangered species act of 1978.
Dominican amber is considered to be some of the clearest and finest amber available. Slightly softer than Baltic amber with its hardness found to be between 1.5 and 2 on Moh's scale of hardness. Dominican amber is prized for its coloration, including yellow and deep red, as well as the distinctive (and rare) blue and smoky green hues. The amber from República Dominicana has some of the best color and clarity of any of the ambers. It is considered fairly hard (for amber - remember amber is soft) and easy to work with. Most of the amber from Dominican Republic and is about 25 or 26 million years old and was formed in the sap of the extinct leguminous tree whose scientific name is Hymenaea protera. The formation of our amber happens in layers of lignite or carbonaceous clay layered at intervals with beds of sandstone. The amber found on the island is thought to have been formed because of a fault line putting caustic rock and sediment in the water.
The blue amber is very costly and rare. It is called blue not for the color of the stone but for the fluorescence when it is exposed to ultra-violet light.
The amber is found mainly in three different locations in República Dominicana.
*The Cordillera Septentrional, the northern mountain range near Santiago. This area is known for its many mines including La Toca, La Bucara, Los Cacaos (this mine is said to have most of the rare blue amber), Palo Quemado (much of the fossilized amber is found here) and many more. The amber from these areas have been dated to be between 30 to 40 million years old.
*The Cotui region in the center of the country has the youngest amber dated from between 15 to 17 million years old.
*Bayaguana, a low land area near Sabena, is in the east of Dominican Republic. The amber from these areas is found in clay, gravel and sand.
George Poinar, a University of California entomologist extracted DNA from a 30 million-year-old, tropical stingless bee that was preserved in Dominican Republic Amber. It is said that his research was part of the inspiration for the book Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and the movie by the same name by Steven Spielberg. The movie was even filmed here at the Chavon River (as was the movie Apocalypse Now) and in San Pedro de Macoris.
Two scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, Rob DeSalle David Grimaldi, took DNA from a 30 million-year-old termite caught in amber from Dominican Republic.
There are many myths and legends following Amber. In Greek mythology amber came from the tears of Meleager's sisters. Phaeton, it is told, tried to drive his chariot into the sun. He was killed trying to do so and his body was dropped into the Eridan. Scandinavian mythology says amber was the tears of Freya. In China amber was said to be the soul of the tiger transformed into a mineral after its death.
Amber is said to bestow joyfulness and happiness to its owner. The cheery yellow stone is believed to lighten the burdens of life. Legend says that Amber was believed to provide magicians and sorcerers with special enhanced powers. Maybe it was always thought to be magical because of the electric it throws of when rubbed or heated. In addition to its ability to attract energy and power, amber was believed to aid the intellect. It was prescribed for memory loss; eccentric behavior; anxiety, and indecisiveness. Healers say that amber activates our altruistic nature and helps us realize the full power of our spiritual intellect.
Powers attributed to amber include love, strength, luck, healing, and protection, calming for hyperactivity and stressed nerves, finds humor and joy. Helps remove energy blockages, strengthens physical body. Excellent for enhancing altered states of consciousness. Since amber is electrically charged and is said to carry a negative charge at that, it is told that it draws power and energy into its bearer.
Amber jewelry and insect filled resin pieces can be found throughout Dominican Republic in most tourist areas made into some fine jewelry. Most shops have a little demonstration to show you the difference between real and fake amber. They place real and fake amber into some water. Real amber floats on heavily saturated salt water (I heard that the water must be from the sea but this I cannot verify) while the fake sinks.
Amber is widely copied using synthetic polymers, plastics and resins so be cautious. The plastic version cannot produce static electricity when rubbed as the genuine product can.
A piece of amber found in Dominican Republic. Embedded in this piece is an insect, an immature Planthopper
Rough, unfinished Amber found in Dominican Republic. This is the original state in which Amber is found before it has been polished.
A very large piece of amber weighing about 28 grams found in Dominican Republic. There is a largish spider, ants, a gnat, an unknown beetle larvae, a fly, what looks like a mite, a possible Psyllid, and a solitary stingless tropical bee. to learn more go to http://www.ambericawest.com
Most of these mining tunnels where Amber is found are hand excavated and are very dangerous. There are mudslides during rainy season and much of the work needs to be halted during these times. The amber here is thought to have been formed because of a fault line putting caustic rock and sediment in the water.
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Amber jewelry in a Dominican gift shop
Proper Care and Handling of Amber:
Since Amber is soft and brittle it needs to be handled in a special way. It can melt and lost its gloss easily.
*Do not let hairspray and perfume touch amber
*Do not let it rub against metal or other jewelry
*Do not use an ultrasonic or steam cleaner. Amber will shatter
*Do not let amber come in contact with any strong solution, soap, detergent, jewelry cleaning solutions. They can dull the finish or give a whitish coating
*Do not let amber contact any common kitchen substances IE: lard, many different oils, butter
*Do not let amber anywhere near any heat source IE: ovens, stoves, tanners, strong sun, lights.
*Dust and perspiration can be removed with lukewarm water and a soft flannel cloth.
*Dry and buff with clear olive oil, buff with a soft cloth to remove excess oil and restore the polish.
*Store in a soft cloth
When visiting Colonial Zone in Dominican Republic make sure to visit the Amber World Museum on Calle Arzobispo Meriño # 452, and Calle Restauración. They have some great examples of Dominican amber.