Amber facts for kids

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Baltic amber - Coleoptera, Cleridae - Length 10 mm
Baltic amber inclusion: Nothorhina granulicollis Zang, 1905 (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae)
Spider in amber (1)
A spider trapped in amber
The Amber Room was reconstructed from Kaliningrad amber.
Ambre Dominique Moustique
A mosquito in amber
Spider in Baltic amber.
Wood resin, the ancient source of amber
Amber Bernstein many dark stones
Cloudy unpolished amber, artificially illuminated

Amber is the common name for fossil resin. It occurs in different colours, and is widely used for making jewellery and other ornaments. Although not mineralized, amber is sometimes considered as a gemstone.

Most of the world's amber is in the range of 30–90 million years old. Semi-fossilized resin or sub-fossil amber is called copal. Baltic amber was called 'Freya's tears' by the Norse and the 'tears of the Heliades' by the ancient Greeks.

Amber consists of several resinous bodies that can mostly dissolve in alcohol, ether and chloroform, associated with a bituminous substance that does not dissolve.


The name comes from the Arabic عنبر, ʻanbar. True amber has sometimes been called kahroba, a word of Persian derivation signifying "that which attracts straw", in allusion to the power which amber possesses of acquiring an electric charge by friction.

Amber was mentioned by Homer, Aristotle, Plato and others. Pliny the Elder complains that a small statue of amber costs more than a healthy slave. Tacitus in his Germania talks about the Aesti people as the only ones to gather amber from the Baltic Sea. There is also strong evidence for the theory that the Baltic coasts during the advanced civilization of the Nordic Bronze Age was the source of most amber in Europe, for example the amber jewelry found in graves from Mycenaean Greece has been found to originate from the Baltic Sea.

During the fourteenth century, the Teutonic Knights controlled the production of amber in Europe, forbidding its unauthorised collection from beaches on the Baltic coastline under their jurisdiction, and punishing breakers of this ordinance with death.

Amber in geology

Amber is formed from sap coming out of certain trees. The sap soon becomes a sticky gum, and fossilises as amber. The amber can look different depending on its origin, and its later geological history.

To end up as amber, the starting resin must resist decay. Many trees produce resin, but usually it is broken down by physical and biological process. Exposure to weather tends to disintegrate resin, assisted by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. For resin to survive long enough to become amber, it must resist such forces, or be produced under conditions that exclude them.

Baltic amber (historically called Prussian amber) is found as irregular nodules in a marine sand, known as blue earth, in the Lower Oligocene strata of Sambia in Kaliningrad Oblast, where it is now systematically mined.

Agathis amber comes from the conifer Agathis, a tree that used to grow over a much wider area.

Amber from America and Africa often comes from the Hymenaea, a genus of flowering plants.

Amber inclusions

The resin can contain, in addition to the beautifully preserved plant-structures, remains of insects, spiders, annelids, frogs, crustaceans and other small organisms that became trapped while it was fluid. In most cases the organic structure has disappeared, leaving only a cavity, with perhaps a trace of chitin.

Locations and use

Baltic amber

Amber is found along the shores of a large part of the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. The greatest amber-producing country is the promontory of Sambia, now part of Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast. About 90% of the world's extractable amber is in the Kaliningrad region of Russia on the Baltic Sea.

Amber was deposited in the late Eocene and early Oligocene in a delta of a prehistoric river, in a shallow part of a marine basin. In addition to the coast near Kaliningrad, amber is also found elsewhere in the Baltic Sea region. Small amounts of Baltic amber can even be found outside the Baltic region, for example on the coastline of the south east of England. On the evidence of Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy (FTIR) analysis of amber and resin from living trees, that conifers of the family Sciadopityaceae were responsible. The only living representative of this family is the Japanese umbrella pine, Sciadopitys verticillata.

Amber is extensively used for beads and other ornaments, and for cigar-holders and the mouth-pieces of pipes. The Amber Room in the Catherine Palace near Saint Petersburg is notable. It is a reproduction of the original Amber Room, destroyed in WWII.

When gradually heated in an oil-bath, amber becomes soft and flexible. Two pieces of amber may be united by smearing the surfaces with linseed oil, heating them, and then pressing them together while hot. Cloudy amber may be made clearer in an oil-bath, as the oil fills the numerous pores to which the turbidity is due. Small fragments, formerly thrown away or used only for varnish, are now used on a large scale in the formation of "ambroid" or "pressed amber". The pieces are carefully heated with exclusion of air and then pressed into one mass by intense hydraulic pressure, the softened amber being forced through holes in a metal plate. As mentioned, the product is extensively used for making cheap jewellery and articles for smoking.

Amber was much valued as an ornamental material in early times.

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Amber Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.