Unusual (I think) Inclusions in Baltic Amber

I recently acquired a few pieces of amber mounted in bezels made in the Himalayas (amulets in a distinct Himalayan style). The stones in that, and many other regions can be from very distant locations and they were often mounted and remounted countless times over the ages. By all accounts, the amber is natural Baltic, amber, but one stone in particular has inclusions that I have never seen before in amber or any other stone. My source buys or finds these locally and it would be vert hard to see how he could come across synthetic or processed stones, nor would he sell those to me (we are friends and this is not a business for either of us).

Anyhow, I am stumped in what these inclusions could be. Many are reflective, exhibiting polychrome, metallic colors like what you see with hematite. Others are not, and vary in their appearance, some almost look like magnified cells, which I am not suggesting they are, it’s just how i can thing to describe them. Most are round or disk-shaped, with a few exceptions. I looked at these magnified and although some are likely bubbles, others most defiantly are not singularly bubbles; that is to say, they may be bubbles but within the bubbles are various stuff I can’t identify.

Any ideas? Has anyone seen inclusions like this before?

Here are some pics (the last under UV to show the blue effect on the amber).


Hi Paul,

There are several articles that explain the content of amber (Baltic in particular) based on the type of material encapsulated within. These are the typical fauna (insects, plants, reptilian, and mammalian) that get captured in the tree resin.

The flat platelets usually occur from lichen, fungi, and molds that were present on the tree. Larger life-forms such as insects and small reptilians tend to hold their shape as the amber fossilizes. But the lichen / fungi break down causing their molecular content to leach out into the resin and typically form the flat disk shapes.

It is also common to find fracture like inclusions, like the ones visible in the UV image, that allow other fluids to infiltrate the amber material as it dehydrates.

You have some really good images showing this!

And that is one of the largest amber pieces/settings I have ever seen! Beautiful and Fantastic!

The one non-destructive test that can validate real from simulant, is the saltwater float test. Unfortunately, you would have to dismount the stone from its bezel to do this.



disc shaped inclusions are very common in baltic amber. Finding fossilized insects and other small animals and plants that hold their appearance is exceedingly rare and are collector’s items, priced accordingly.

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Thank you very much for the very insightful reply. I don’t want to remove the bezel and i’m reticent to expose that to salt water, but I estimated the weight of the bezel, did an SG test, adjusting for the bezel weight, and between that, the UV test and RI, its unquestionably amber. Theoretically it may have been sourced from a non-Baltic region, but so much came from there, and traveled via several “Amber Roads” ( through what is now Europe, southeastward to several key trading hubs on the Med coast of Iberia, and across the Pontic Steppe to the northern Silk Road hubs of Samarkand and Bukhara, etc, from which point it could travel into China via the northern route, or along the southern route, which passed through the Hindu Kush and connected to Himalayan segments. So between all that, color, and measurements, it’s sensible to conclude a Baltic origin (it’s the most parsimonious theory), but if anyone has other theories, Im happy to be wrong.

I feel lucky to have gotten it.

Your thoughts on inclusions make sense; I wasn’t thinking lichens, etc, but such organisms, but those would explain a lot of them.

Thanks again!

Thanks. It’s opaque beyond a few mm below the surface and so who knows what else is in there; it’s a pretty hefty chunk (315 cts with the bezel, which is quite thin and light), so lots of room for heck knows what else. As long as I have it, i’ll never know, as it wound be criminal :slight_smile: to cut it further, IMHO. Thank you!

You have a large nice piece of amber. It would be hard to find something that size and as nice… let it be!.
So far as your comment about ancient trade routes, I found a reference about amber being found in the middle east, spain and britain. I don’t know if those sources were discovered in ancient times, nor what kinds of inclusion characterize them. If you have a reference as to whether non Baltic amber was mined and traded in the ancient world, please reply. The only other place that I know of that high quality gem amber currently comes from is the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean… the best of that amber has a blue tint…

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Thanks for the note, it’s cool you appreciate this stone.

Amber has been mined and traded literally since the dawn of human memory. “Amber road” is a legit archeological term, and although highly under-researched, these routes date to at least the early Bronze Age. It may be tough to find papers dedicated to this topic, specifically, but the pieces can be put together pretty easily based on the appearance of human worked amber proxy dated in archeological layers that do not appear suddenly in a few areas and then spread from there (suggesting an “emergence” of such artifacts around which a chronology can be inferred).

Gemstones are a lot like beads in archeology. It is only in the past couple of decades (slowly) that they have been deemed relevant to the material record. IMHO, they both should be absolutely central to that record. Nothing much lasts 5000 years or 50,000 years when exposed to the elements except stone and DNA. There’s a lot more of these stones floating around than the megalithic kind, which has been (and still is, largely) the focus. The one exception is obsidian and other hard stone microliths, but that’s an inherently limited body of evidence; certainly not enough to be seen as key marker of cultural sophistication of ancient peoples, as has been and continues to be the case.

Baltic amber should be recognizable by it’s inclusions. Most of the old world amber did come from the baltic…where have amber artifacts and jewerly pieces been found outside of europe? has it been found in the middle east, china? amber baltic origin should still be recognizable by inclusions, even though amber is present in Israel and Jordan. Has ancient amber made it to North Africa?

PS: DNA does last longer than we used to think. However, it does degrade quickly. One of the recent DNA tracing projects for ice age plants sampled millions of fragments of DNA strands. a decade and the massive application of dedicated AI to match up million of short strands to reconstruct the genome…doing it without AI would have not been possible. Hand matching, entering them into a computer and having a computer sort and match them without dedicated AI would have been impossibly long. The results were the reconstruction of an ecosystem.

You are correct, I think i’m best case situation ancient DNA degrades after very roughly 50ka (it varies dramatically). That said, since only a select number of SNPs (genetic sequences) are regularly used to plot age/species, etc., whole genome sequencing is ideal, but not often necessary. Additionally, there are a bunch or statistical methods to infer genomic sequences mathematically that have otherwise degraded. My point, though, was that DNA, essentially, encodes the entire history of a species (that is to say, it’s not strictly a point-in-time encoding of whatever ia being analyzed, but both legacy DNA and genetic sequences representative of the “evolution” of that DNA to that point are all in the code (something like a checksum or meta-data log in computer science). So as long as a species exists, a great deal of history can be inferred, not always elegantly, often crudely, in fact, but in principle, it’ll the big picture over time remains in the code.

In fact, a very new, but now widely used technique to find ancient DNA is through sediment samples. In other words, scrape a sample of dirt and within it myriad snips of DNA (from feces, decayed tissue/bones/teeth, etc) can be isolated and sequenced. It’s never whole genomes for ancient stuff, but it can still be highly insightful. We now have more DNA from Dinesovans (an earlier species of highly complex and still very poorly understood humans) from sediment analysis than from actual preserved bones, teeth, etc.

That’s way off topic, sorry. My point was, not much lasts 5-50,000 years except hard stone and all that stuff I just described. I hope that makes sense. This is probably not the forum to drill into this stuff, so again, sorry if way off topic. The net net is that the emerging genetic record has so wholly diverged from the conventional archeological record for very ancient humanity that new models will need to be developed to reconcile the two. The story is far more complex that we learned in school, night and day, and I do believe gemstones, beads, and non-lithic stone art and artifacts must play a central role in the new material record. That’s pretty much all that is physically considerable, yet the focus remains on megalithic and utilitarian microlithic artifacts (blades, scrapers, etc., which tell us next to nothing about the peoples who may have made and used them).

Sorry, I realized I didn’t answer part of your question. Several sources of Amber besides the Baltic region are believed to have existed in ancient times. It’s really hard to know original sources with certainty but examples have been found that are believed to originate in China and Myanmar, among others. There are tons of ancient textual references to amber, but some are pretty questionable. For example, Ctesias, a Greek physician and historian (well, that’s stretching it :slight_smile: , from the 5th century BC wrote that amber was traded by cynocephalus, or dog-headed humans in what is now northern Myanmar and the Indo-Tibet region, in exchange for bronze and other items. He also said there is a tree in India whose root magnetically attracts gold, silver, stones, etc., everything except amber. Marco Polo made reference to the same “people”, sans the magnetic root part. If you are interested in these trade routes, I am
working on a book about the topic. We shall see how that turns out but I hope one day to finally wrap it up.

I am well aware of the recent success in recontructing ancient ecosystems based on sediment cores. It’s rather overwhelming that something some complex can be obtain from billions of short pieces of oligonucleotides. When you mention SNP’s, I initially thought that you were refering to Single Nucleotide Point mutation…obviously not the case. Legacy DNA is what binds us as living organisms to the archean past. The biochemistry of life has been stable for billions of years…
Your endeavors are going deep and into many fields. What are your academic credentials if you have any may I ask? Not that it matters, it seems that you have a depth of knowledge in multiple fields that serves you well. Best wishes on getting your book put together. Let me know when it’s published. I would love to read it.

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I found a number of reference to Chinese and Myanmar amber. Some of the stuff is found in coal deposits deep within the interior of China. I’m sure that the distribution of amber deposits are worldwide. Some is found in North American and MesoAmerica. All it takes is tree sap and a swamp.

Lower Cretaceous Hailar amber: The oldest-known amber from China

Author links open overlay panelYuling Li a b, Daran Zheng a, Jingeng Sha a, Haichun Zhang a, Steven Denyszyn c, [Su-Chin Chang b](https://www.sciencedirect.com/author/26029687300/su-chin-chang
Redirecting[Get rights and content](https://s100.copyright.com/AppDispatchServlet?publisherName=ELS&contentID=S0195667122003366&orderBeanReset=true
We summarize the Chinese amber sites that have been described.

This study report two newly discovered amber sites from North China.
Our age suggests that the oldest known amber in China is ∼130 Ma.
The Hailar amber provides a unique window into the Cretaceous world.


Amber in Ancient China: Tears of a Tiger

Yun Boutique
https://www.yunboutique.com › blogs › 75408197-am…

Amber was so abundant to them while it was so scarce elsewhere because the Khitan controlled the areas in the northeast where amber is mined. Amber works …

Sci Adv. 2021 Apr; 7(18): eabg0625.

Published online 2021 Apr 30. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abg0625

PMCID: PMC8087408

PMID: 33931457

The mid-Miocene Zhangpu biota reveals an outstandingly rich rainforest biome in East Asia

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Thanks, it’s cool to see you find this subject interesting. My credentials are in data science and paleo-genetics, which may not be traditional empirical research creds, but they are very important chops to have in modern research.

Thanks for the links, these are super insightful. Who knows, there may have been amber in what is not Norrh Africa as well during the “green sahara” epoch, or in Baringia, Doggerland, or the Sahul, to cite a few extreme possibilities. Climate and the geological landscape of our planet truly got whacked at global scale many times in the ancient past, so it’s really hard to know.

the post above was from research gate. The Ethiopean amber deposits were discovered C.2010… unknown whether it was mined in ancient times, but no evidence of any large scale workings. Initially dated as Cretaceous, by stratigraphy but it has been redated as Miocene. It’s a unique green colored and is extensively fossiliferous amber deposit, containing many insect and small animal inclusions, Ethiopian civilization is at least as old as the Coptic Church. but that would be AD rather than bronze age… Sheba of the King Solomon story came from present day Yemen. The nearest source of Amber in the Middle East outside of Eastern and Southern Europe is India, north of Mumbai on the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat State. This is also a recent discovery from a coal mine. Not known to have been exploited in ancient times.

This bowl from that last link is incredible, almost incomprehensibly so, both in terms of technique/materials and also aesthetics.

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That area is absolutely central to these ancient trade routes, as you point out. Note that it was culturally, genetically, and linguistically highly diverse, and largely not Egyptian, and remained so until Ptolemy. Well, said better, it became far less diverse and complex under Ptolemy, but that’s another story, and not a pleasant one.

These routes existed since well before the Old Kingdom (and well before what’s known as the “Naddaqa” periods that predate “Egypt” as it is generally known. The Egyptians appears to have been perfectly fine taxing the trade and enjoying the products, but were never particularly active participants. Various Yemen and Ethiopia region peoples, as you point out, were super active participants; the Bronze Age (and likely earlier) terrestrial routes to the north of the Red Sea appear to primarily have ran through 1. Alexandria, and 2. northeast through Saba and into the Nubian regions to Petra. There are other paths that are knowable, but to your point, it’s a complex picture.

There was almost certainly Westward legs through what is now the horn of Africa, and both land and sea routes at least as far south as Madagascar (the earlier Western historical assumption that Madagascar was populated around 1400AD was way off the mark. It is still not certain exactly when it was first populated but it was at least as early as the early Bronze Age - Id have to dig up the paper to remember exactly- and despite being highly 600 miles off the coast of Continental Africa, the predominant genetic profile of the currently known founding population is unambiguously Oceanic (from the interior of Borneo, Java, and Bugis, peoples broadly in the Oceanic world, but today largely in South Sulawesi).

The whole picture is insanely complex and sophisticated, it is arguable that there was a meaningful regression in complexity and sophistication by the time of the Iron Age. The trajectory was not linear and progressive in the least.

Anyhow, I ramble. Yeah, I hope to get a readable book written. None of this requires any expertise or credentials to understand and enjoy learning about (if that’s your thing). My hope is to write for readers like that, but keep it all thoroughly evidence base and absent speculative “ancient mystery” stuff. The story doesn’t need that kind of thing, the reality is more interesting.

By far one of the most information rich (and not politicized or revisionist) texts documenting these routes post Ptolemy is The Pluribus of the Ethythraean Sea by an anonymous Greek trader and Egyptian citizen.
(Periplus of the Erythraean Sea - Wikipedia). If you read it, I suggest getting a version with extensive footnotes, preferably complied in the late 19th or early 20th century. We’ve digress in our understanding of this region since that time, surprisingly.

I bet you’re right, I bet they existed in many regions.