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 Post subject: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 11:50 am 
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Hi everyone :D

Here is the article I wrote for the Rock n Gem magazine. I think I put forward a simple common sense view regards to inclusions in amber, DNA, Jurassic Park and the copal versus amber issue.

Mexican Amber
Amber is a fossilized resin that exuded from the bark of an ancient long extinct tree. It is not the same as sap which is a nutrient for the tree rising through the heartwood. The ambers antiseptic properties protect the tree from disease and attacks from wood gnawing and burrowing insects. As it exuded as blobs or stalactites which drip or flow down the trunk or branches of the tree. the resin acted as a sticky trap entombing flora and fauna.

This amber with inclusions is a natural time capsule. The best pieces capturing a moment in time from millions of years ago. Most amber is from the Baltic region or from the Dominican republic. Mexican amber, often also known as Chiapas amber is from Mexico's most southern state which borders Guatamala. It brings a much needed income to some of the poorest people in Mexico. It is quite rare. The mining is very much a cottage industry. The indigenous Tzatzil Mayan tunnel and burrow into the mountainside using simple hand tools. The mining is somewhat seasonal when they are not working on the maze or coffee crop. Sometimes the production can be in total a few kilos a day.

From the latest research it appears that Mexican amber is form the Oligocene/Miocene in age some 24-30 million years ago. This amber is natural not treated like most Baltic amber. It often has a lovely fluorescence to it and produces good natural red amber. Though it was known to the ancient Maya and traded to the Aztecs and other tribes. The Spanish conquistadors tell of the Aztec Emperor Montezuma stirring his chocolate with a amber spoon. It was first introduced to the modern world by the eminent archaeologist. Franz Blom. Blom was born in 1893 in Copenhagen into a middle class Danish family. He was restless and traveled to Mexico. He found work in the oil industry as a paymaster. Traveling to remote locations in the Mexican jungle he became interested in the Mayan ruins he encountered. He obtained a degree in archaeologist from Harvard University. He helped document many ancient ancient Mayan archaeological sites and discovered the ancient Mayan site of Uaxatun. He was one of the foremost experts on Mayan archeology and culture. He became aware of amber deposits in the Simojovel area of Chiapas, and sent samples with insect inclusions to the University of California.

This sparked off such interest that soon after in 1953 a group of scientists from Californias museum of Paleontology, Berkeley arranged with Blom to visit the amber deposits in the Simojovel area. Blom owned a large house in the Spanish colonial town of San Chistobal de las Casses. It was a cultural and artistic center. They set off with Blom in a jeep for Simojovel in the Chiapas highlands. This was something like a 60 mile journey on a dirt road that winded through the mountains. They experienced much difficulty with landslides and rock falls etc. Added to that the local indigenous were not used to outsiders and were often hostile. Despite the problems the expedition was successful. Stratographic mapping was undertaken. Amber with inclusions was obtained. One new find was a new species of a stingless bee. The most significant collection of Mexican amber is at the University of California Museum Berkeley. It was assembled by PD Hurd Jnr and other scientists in the 1950's. My first visit to Simojovel in 1974-75. It was still an isolated area and hard to get to.

It was Dr George Poinar's research work into DNA in amber inclusions which gave Michael Chrichton his idea for the book Jurassic Park. On the day of the film release of Jurassic Park Dr Poinar, and his team of scientists announced that they had made a breakthrough in extracting DNA from an extinct bee in Dominican amber. This set off much interest in the inclusions in amber. I do not know why any one would want to create a dinosaur. But it has resulted in beneficial research work into plants and insects in amber and to the development of modern species.

Copal versus amber
The distinction between Copal and amber is contentious as they both have the same chemical formula. The difference is Copal contains liquids such as oils acids and alcohol. These produce the distinct resin smell. It is often used in incense. In amber these volatile liquids have dissipated and evaporated. The resin has then undergone a process known as polymerization. The organic molecules join to form larger ones called polymers. The molecules are cross linked and intertwined. In Copal only part polymerization has taken place.

The chemical formula for Copal and amber is pretty much the same. From a chemical and geological point of view some people claim no distinction should be made between copal and amber just generally classify them as resinites or fossil resin. Other people insist they should all be called amber. From a jewelry and gemological point of view the definition has to be on its physical properties. Copal still contains volatile liquids which evaporate thus causing it to crack and craze. Copal is not rare and it is unstable and not as hard and durable as amber.

According to Dr George Poinar Columbian Copal ranges in age from ten to a few hundred years old. African and Madagascan Copal are probably the same age. The oldest Copal is probably from New Zealand (better known as Kauri gum) which can be up to 40,000 years old. The inclusions in amber are of extinct insect species. In Copal they are modern species.

The best test for distinguishing amber from Copal is a drop of solvent or acetone nail polish remover. Copal will become sticky whilst it will have no effect on amber.

Conclusion
Inclusions in amber have enabled scientists to research the earths climatic change patterns and evolution and development of flora and fauna.

Much research has been done on inclusions in Baltic amber going back over a long period of time. Baltic amber has been almost fully researched. Even Dominican amber has been more researched than Mexican Amber probably because Mexican Amber is rare and hard to obtain. I have supplied 16 pieces of Mexican amber for research into the inclusions. One contained a new species and genus of insect which was named after me - Tonacatecutlius Gibsoni.

Mexican and Dominican amber are not as old as Baltic amber though the inclusions in Mexican and Dominican are probably just as important, if not more, as they come from a time when modern day plants and insects were evolving in the Oligocene/Miocene period.

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 9:02 pm 
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=D> :smt023 really enjoyed your article on mexican amber, dave!! excellent!! in david grimaldi's book, that i really enjoyed, there was a picture of a stingless bee encased in amber, which i've never heard of a "stingless" bee before. :P fascinating to read how michael crichton came up with the idea of jurassic park from dr. poinar's research of dna in amber inclusions. 8)


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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2010 3:15 pm 
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'Marvelous article Dave...the 'old' road to Simojovel was something, eh? 'You brought back many memories... =D>

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 11:42 am 
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Hi Jan Kirk every one :)

Any book by Dr Poinar or David Grimaldi on amber is well recommended. They are two very extremely talented people. They both do their own sketches for their books.

Pity they don't work together.

Kirk

With the new road to Simojovel it is now a nice scenic journey from San Cristobal of about two and a half hours with the old route one needed to start out early. I remember two guys trying to trick me to get off the truck at Pueto Cate crossroads, it was night and at that time a deserted area. Simojovel has not changed too much. The hotel and pensions are not up to much. Sometimes in the morning the water is off and the toilet is blocked. You will know the pension with the Cantina. If you stay there its not too far to get back to the room.Lots of insects up there. Pity all the mosquitoes did not end up getting entombed in amber. Once trying to get to the amber deposits picked up a lot of blood sucking bugs tapping into my vains. They even got into my private parts. Still its very interesting in the Simojovel area and you could get lucky. You too must have spent a lot of time in this area collecting amber.

Do not know if any of the palaentologists have spent much time in the Simojovel area, not since they were up there with Blom back in the 1950's.

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 4:21 pm 
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davegibson wrote:
I remember two guys trying to trick me to get off the truck at Pueto Cate crossroads, it was night and at that time a deserted area. Simojovel has not changed too much.

sounds very dangerous and risky!!

davegibson wrote:
You will know the pension with the Cantina. If you stay there its not too far to get back to the room.Lots of insects up there. Pity all the mosquitoes did not end up getting entombed in amber. Once trying to get to the amber deposits picked up a lot of blood sucking bugs tapping into my vains. They even got into my private parts.

:shock:

i noticed that one of the books that ms. barbra has listed in the GO bookstore by dr. poinar, "The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World," is written with roberta poinar; is she his wife by any chance??


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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2010 7:43 am 
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Hi every one :)
gingerkid, yes Roberto Poinar is George Poinars wife.
She is a electron microscopist with experience in entomology. There is also Poinars son Hendrak
a genetic research scientist. They were all working on a DNA project, to extract DNA from insect inclusions in amber, at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Amber Forest by Poinar & Poinar is essential reading for any one interested in Dominican or Mexican amber, and he does put forward some interesting and ethical views
I have had this book since it first came out in 1999

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Sat Oct 16, 2010 8:40 am 
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Good article Dave, you'll have to get hold of some of the Aussie stuff.

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2010 11:26 am 
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Hi every one
Seems the Australian amber is similar to Dominican and Mexican amber.
estimates on the age are about the same ,and from a tropical forest.
Mehoose it is going to be interesting regards to the inclusions,how things were in your
part of the world millions of years ago :shock:

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Tue Nov 02, 2010 7:23 pm 
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Dave,

Your article on Mexican amber is absolutely fascinating.
Thank you so much for posting it. I enjoyed it tremendeously.

I am guilty of not reading this section very often so I only read it today.


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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2011 8:59 pm 
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Just spent some time in the Simojovel area of Chiapas.
Not alot of mining of amber taking place this time of year, as the local Maya are working on the coffee crop. Did see two pieces of amber with excepsonal inclusions,both were so life like, frozen in time. one was a butterflie perfectly perserved wings outstreched, body would have been over one inch long. It was a better speciman than the one in George Poinars book the Amber Forest. They wanted
about $250 for it. Went to sort out some money but when I got back to them they had sold it. The other piece had a large cockroach in, again body over one inch, caught perfectly, not been able to strugle it antennaes flowing out stretched. It was in clear amber of good color yellow orange with shades of green, good fluorescences, the only proplem was he wanted $800 for it
Still did manage to pick up some interesting pieces
Do not think things have changed too much in the Simojoval area
No hot water toilet often not working, foot of a chicken in my veg
meal, cockroaches in the room. One even got in the bottel of beer
I had in my room. Do not think the Palaeontologists have spent much time there, not since Frans Blom took them up there in 1954

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 3:44 pm 
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I don't think I've noticed that 'Pension' by the 'Cantina'...I usually stayed at the Hotel with the tremendous view about 4-5 blocks DOWN from Centro. TV and hot water, about 200 pesos.
Did you see much red or green flash material?

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Thu Jan 27, 2011 11:30 am 
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That was a very very interesting read Dave!

It seems there is a very distinct difference between amber and copal. I have some copal. Good to know the difference. 8)

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Thu Jan 27, 2011 3:10 pm 
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Hi everyone :)
Flitter Amber is a Gem, Copal is not, as it is not rare, unstable and not durable.
Kirk did not see any amber with red or green flash, though the piece with the cockroach was good. did get a few small pieces of polished red. The pension with the cantina is just one block over from the plaza as you come into town, thought you would know about it. Two pensions opposite each other, both very basic, but the location good the locals come in with the amber.
Not alot of amber around when the locals are working on the coffee or maize, need to be there the right time of year

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Last edited by davegibson on Thu Jan 27, 2011 5:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Thu Jan 27, 2011 3:53 pm 
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I always drove so probably those pensions weren't a viable choice for me.
Yah, I think March is the month 'no verdad'? kirk

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 Post subject: Re: My Mexican Amber article
PostPosted: Thu Feb 03, 2011 1:50 pm 
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enjoyed reading of your ventures to find some amber, dave! sure wish you could've grabbed the butterfly in amber piece. wow, 800 big ones for a cockroach preserved in amber?? must have been quite a specimen!!

davegibson wrote:
Amber is a Gem, Copal is not, as it is not rare, unstable and not durable.

was not aware of that, dave. i have wondered about what j*v shows on their show that is sold as faceted copal? from columbia, and it's been heat treated? they also sell copal beads. :?


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