EDUCATION: Trapped Forever

Science  05 Aug 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5736, pp. 857
DOI: 10.1126/science.309.5736.857d

Paleontologists prize amber because it serves as a sticky time capsule, entombing organisms from up to 300 million years ago. Archaeologists can use the fossilized tree resin to uncover ancient trade routes. You'll find a cache of amber lore at this site from librarian Susan Ward Aber of Emporia State University in Kansas. Amber forms when organic molecules oozed by trees react with oxygen and polymerize. The site covers topics such as where amber is found today—the Baltic area of Russia and the Dominican Republic are hot spots—and how to identify it. Real amber floats in saltwater, whereas plastic or glass imitations sink. Links at the Life in Amber section create a virtual gallery of animal and plant remains, from a 30-million-year-old grasshopper to the tiny flower of an extinct oak tree.

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