What is amber?
Amber is NOT a stone. Actually, it is fossil resin (but not from any tree), translucent, very light and hard, which burns easily and gives off a pleasant smell.
Since the Paleolithic (2.6 million years ago), amber has an important role in both, life and death. However, it took a long time after its appearance for people to know what amber really is.
The first documentation known about amber dates back to 2000 years before Christ. In Mesopotamia and since then, humanity began a battle of almost 4000 years to try to find out its origin.
During these 4000 years, the man struggled to get answers and many suggestions were made to explain the descent of amber.
The ancient Egyptians called the amber “sacal” which simply means “rock.” This is probably the first documented assumption about the origin of amber.
Amber and mythology
The ancient Greeks believed that amber came from the mourning tears of Heliades, which became an aspen tree, after his brother, Phaethon (son of the god Helios and the nymph of the sea Clymene) gets killed by Zeus for his attempt to move the sun across the sky. They baptized amber with the name of electron, that means “radiant sun”.
There were continuous debates in ancient Rome, since philosophers could not come to an agreement about the origin of amber assuming it could be a vegetable, mineral or animal, as well as heated mud from a lake.
Some Europeans, believed that amber appears because of a Lithuanian legend about Jurate, the queen of the sea.
Jurate fell in love with Kastytis, a fisherman. Her father Perkunas, the thunder-god, who was extremely jealous, did not agree and to punish her. He destroyed her palace of amber and turned her into a sea foam. So, those pieces of amber found in the Baltic are still the pieces of Jurate’s palace.
Raw Amber piece
Some time later, Pliny the Elder, came to his own conclusions more or less scientific: “Amber is formed from the sap of pine species, which hardened by frost, cold or heat is dragged to the shores of the continent”.
This was probably one of the most accurate versions of amber origin. In addition, it was widely used throughout the following generations to explain how amber is formed.
What does science say about amber?
Fortunately, in the 20th century, scientists were able to give a true scientific explanation and evidence to this question, thanks mainly to technologies development.
The research showed that Amber is a fossilized resin from prehistoric trees.
Specifically in the case of Baltic amber, it comes from a variety of pine that disappeared millions of years ago from the surface of the earth, and although it is called stone, in reality its origin is organic.
Many people mistakenly believe that the usual tree sap is from what amber derives. In fact, it is not true because authentic amber took thousands of years, and another hundreds climatic changes to form.
Resin-amber process is a continuous sequence, from freshly hardened to “rocky” resins. Transformation from resin into amber depends on the predominant geological conditions, as well as the composition of the resin. It is usually the result of geothermal stress, since chemical changes in the resin accelerate to higher temperatures.
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As David Grimaldi, famous entomologist and author of the book “Amber: A Window to the Past”, stated: “No individual feature identifies at what age along the continuum the substance becomes amber”
Since that time, amber has continually been surprising the scientific community by revealing more and more hidden properties.
The second thing that scientists learned about amber was the fact that it is heterogeneous in its composition. Its basic components are approximately 78% carbon, 11% oxygen and 10% hydrogen. So, it even has its own formula : C10 H16 O.
The third thing that they evaluated was the hardness. According to the Mohs scale, amber range is from 2 to 3. This means that amber is a soft material, it can be scratched with a knife and can easily break if it hits or falls.
However, the softness of amber is also an advantageous quality, it can be easily treated, cut, perforated, ground and polished.
Of course, researchers were still not satisfied with the result obtained. So, they threw a piece of amber into the fire and then, into the water. Finally they learned that when amber is heated, first it softens and then melts when it reaches a temperature of 315-350 Cº.
When a long period of time without body contact occurs, amber oxidized under the influence of oxygen in the air. In addition, when polished, it reveals a specific electromagnetic quality of attracting pieces.
Amber was used to cure severe headache, neck pain and sore throat, according to the works of Hippocrates. Also, the use of bracelets made from amber were beneficial for those suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, fatigue and tiredness in general.
As a curious fact, Martin Luther King used to carry a piece of amber in his pocket as protection against kidney stones.
Nowadays, this magical resin has been studied by science, which has proven some of its health benefits. It is a perfect investment and a wonderful piece of history that can be passed down from generation to generation, allowing us to be in the minds of our descendants for hundreds of years, as same as amber has been for thousands of years on the face of the earth.
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