Amber is fossilised pine resin (from the amber pine) which oozes out of the trunk and then sets. When it fossilised, it becomes amber. Often bits got trapped in the resin before it set, perhaps even insects (see right). The film “Jurassic Park” imagines that you could take a mosquito from a piece of amber, remove some dinosaur blood from the mosquito’s stomach, extract the DNA from the blood, and clone a dinosaur. This is impossible, but not completely impossible, and it makes a good story!
Amber beads were common throughout Bronze Age Europe.
The Greeks called amber “elektron” (which may come from a Phoenician word for the sun, meaning “golden”). They noticed its power to attract small bits of ash when rubbed with a cloth. This is static electricity, and the word “electricity” comes from “elektron” or amber. Pliny, the Roman author, knew that amber came from resin, by its smell and the way it burns, but didn’t realise that it was fossilised.
You can find amber on the beaches of East Anglia UK. The top piece in the photograph above was found at Great Yarmouth on the east coast of England. Ambergris (which gives its name to amber) is a strongly smelling substance found in the intestines of some whales, which is used to make perfume. It is nothing to do with amber! But since amber can be found on beaches, perhaps people thought that it can from the sea, and so must be ambergris.