Some science behind the scenes


Amber is fossilized tree resin (not sap) -  the soft sticky tree resin that often exudes from wounds on trees.  Being sticky it often contains the fossilised remains of insects or plant material. 

It can be found world-wide in rocks of the Cretaceous age or younger, in coal seams, washed up on the shore and on beaches.  Historically, the coast around Königsberg in Prussia was the world's leading source of amber. About 90% of the world's extractable amber is still located in the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia on the Baltic Sea (which was previously Königsberg in Prussia, before World War II). 


Pieces of amber torn from the seafloor are cast up by the waves, and collected by hand, dredging, or diving. Elsewhere, amber is mined, both in open works and underground galleries. Then nodules of blue earth have to be removed and an opaque crust must be cleaned off, which can be done in revolving barrels containing sand and water. Erosion removes this crust from sea-worn amber.

It has always been highly valued, though these days the value is attributable to its beautiful colour, appearance and rarity.  But it was once traded for its use as a healing agent in folk medicine, and this should tell us how important amber was once spiritually.  Some these days appear to believe you have to drink it!  But this is not how it works.

Amber is discussed by Theophrastus, possibly the first historical mention of the material, in the 4th century BC. The Greek name for amber was ηλεκτρο (electron) and was connected to the Sun God, one of whose titles was Elector or the Awakener. Amber was used from the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece for a wide variety of treatments through the Middle Ages.

The modern terms "electricity" and "electron" derive from the Greek word for amber and come from William Gilbert's research showing that amber could attract other substances.

Static electricity is usually caused when certain materials are rubbed against each other, like wool on plastic or the soles of shoes on carpet. Amber when rubbed with wool, for example, produces static electricity.


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