What is Amber

1. Amber History and Classification

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History

Amber has been a highly-valued material since earliest times. Worked amber dating back to 11,000 b.c. has been found at archeological sites in England. Amber was widely believed to have magical healing powers. It was used to make varnish as long ago as 250 b.c., and powdered amber was valued as incense. Amber was also traded throughout the world. By identifying the type of amber used in ancient artifacts, scholars can determine the geographical source of the amber and draw conclusions about early trade routes.

In about 600 b.c., the Greek philosopher Thales rubbed amber with silk, causing it to attract dust and feathers. This static electricity was believed to be a unique property of amber until the sixteenth century, when English scientist William Gilbert demonstrated that it was characteristic of numerous materials. He called it electrification, after elektron, the Greek word for amber.

In the Western Hemisphere, the Aztecs and Mayans carved amber and burned it as incense. The Taino Indians of the island of Hispaniola offered gifts of amber to Christopher Columbus.

The decorative use of amber culminated in 1712 with the completion of an entire banquet room made of amber panels constructed for King Frederick I of Prussia. In the nineteenth century amber attained new significance when German scientists began studying the fossils imbedded in it.

Class I

  1. This class is by far the most abundant. It comprises labdatriene carboxylic acids such as communic or ozic acids. It is further split into three sub-classes. Classes Ia and Ib utilize regular labdanoid diterpenes (e.g. communic acid, communol, biformenes), while Ic uses enantio labdanoids (ozic acid, ozol, enantio biformenes).
    1. “La” Baltic amber yields on dry distillation succinic acid, the proportion varying from about 3% to 8%, and being greatest in the pale opaque or bony varieties. The aromatic and irritating fumes emitted by burning amber are mainly due to this acid. Baltic amber is distinguished by its yield of succinic acid, hence the name succinite. Succinite has a hardness between 2 and 3, which is rather greater than that of many other fossil resins. Its specific gravity varies from 1.05 to 1.10. It can be distinguished from other ambers via IR spectroscopy due to a specific carbonyl absorption peak. IR spectroscopy can detect the relative age of an amber sample. Succinic acid may not be an original component of amber, but rather a degradation product of abietic acid
    2. ‘’Lb’’ Like class Ia ambers, these are based on communic acid; however, they lack succinic acid
    3. ‘’Lc’’ This class is mainly based on enantio-labdatrienonic acids, such as ozic and zanzibaric acids. Its most familiar representative is Dominican amber.
  2. These ambers are formed from resins with a sesquiterpenoid base, such as cadinene.
  3. These ambers are polystyrenes.
  4. Class IV is something of a wastebasket; its ambers are not polymerized, but mainly consist of cedrene-based sesquiterpenoids.
  5. Class V resins are considered to be produced by a pine or pine relative. They comprise a mixture of diterpinoid resins and n-alkyl compounds. Their type mineral is highgate copalite.

Class II

These ambers are formed from resins with a sesquiterpenoid base, such as cadinene

Class III

These ambers are polystyrenes.

Class IV

Class IV is something of a wastebasket; its ambers are not polymerized, but mainly consist of cedrene-based sesquiterpenoids.

Class V

Class V resins are considered to be produced by a pine or pine relative. They comprise a mixture of diterpinoid resins and n-alkyl compounds. Their type mineral is highgate copalite.

Colours of the Baltic Amber

colour