What is Amber?

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What is Amber?

Amber is usually mistaken as tree sap that had hardened. However, the truth is that amber is a plant resin that oozes and drips down trees. In simple terms, amber is a fossilized plant resin. Oftentimes, you can find amber in tree crevices trapping seeds, leaves, insects and etc. Organic compounds, when polymerized naturally, will result to plant resins becoming fossilized thus ending up as an amber.

Resins are believed to be formed as a protection mechanism of plants. Insects and fungi may bring disease or inflict harm to a plant or tree. Plants use resin, which is characterized by odors and tastes that repels insects. Resins are also often seen in broken branches. Therefore, it is also believed to be used by plants to heal wounds from a broken branch.

Amber was derived from an Arabic word anbar. Actually, amber was originally referred to some sort of valuable oil that is extracted from Sperm whales. The word reached Europe through the Crusaders and the French used the term as ambre gris. Later on, they used the term amber jaune for yellow amber, ambre gris for gray amber. Today, the ambre jaune is the one more popularly known as the fossil resin called the amber.

Many are clueless on how amber is formed. As mentioned earlier, amber is a fossilized plant resin. The resin is secreted by plants through its epithelial cells’ pockets and canals. Resins, specifically from land plants, are complex mixture of terpenoids. The mixture may be of monoterpenoids, sesquiterpenoids, diterpinoids and triterpenoids. This complex mixture has structures originating on related isoprene.

When volatile terpenoid fractions in resins evaporate, it leaves non volatile terpenoid fractions. If the nonvolatile terpenoid fractions are strong enough to survive harsh environmental conditions, they become fossilized. In millions of years, these fossilized resins, when integrated with soils and other sediments become rocks ‘“ shale and sandstone.

The same process results into the formation of amber. In millions of years, original organic compounds undergo progressive oxidation and polymerization. There is still not an exact study on how long amber can be formed. However, majority of the roughly 30 to 90 million years old amber were found within the Cretaceous and Tertiary sedimentary rocks.

Usually, amber exhibits shades of pale yellow to deep orange. There is some amber that has some touch of green shade. Moreover, it appears to be smoky and opaque. The most usual color is the yellow-orange-brown, the shade associated with the color amber. Some colors are rare such as the green and red amber. However, the rarest is the blue amber (the fluorescent Dominican blue amber) that is considered to be the most sought after. On the other hand, the one considered to be the most expensive amber is the transparent amber.
Amber had been used in various applications since the ancient times. It is used as component in manufacturing perfumes. It is also used in ancient folk medicine as curative agent. Moreover, it is also used in manufacturing jewelries and other adornments.

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