Is it “amber”?
The year is 1493 A.D. Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the West Indies arrives at La Hispaniola. To his surprise, a Taino indian chief offers him a gift of amber. Later, one single mass of three hundred pounds is found.
In 1891, J.G. Haddow writes the words you find at the top of this page, and this information had been published for over 100 years.
But, Alas!, Dominican amber has not been known as much as Baltic amber. Is there a difference between one and the other?
Some Amber is considered to be up to 345,000,000 years old (Northumberland USA). Compared with this, both, Dominican with up to 40 million years (See New York Times, October 29, 2006 ) and Baltic amber, up to 50 mio, They both are “babies” compared with that.
Therefore, if it is not the age, what is it? Baltic amber is “succinite”, from resin of coniferous trees. Is contains succinic acid, therefore the name. Dominican Amber is not “succinite” but “retinite”. It is fossilized tree resin from an ancient relative of a tropical species called “algarroba” (lat.: Hymenaea Protera). But according to some scientists even this is not very important, but just a result of degradation: Y.Shashoua, National Museum, Denmark, 2002
So, what is the difference? Publicity. Yes, publicity that has been going on for several thousand years, at least since the times of the old Celts and the Phoenicians.
Although its existence has been known since the discovery of the island “La Hispaniola” by Christopher Columbus, Dominican amber mines are only a major source of amber during the last 50 years. But, because there is not much publicity, uninformed people who have not bought it on a visit to the island, don’t even know about it. Seems that some still have to discover the “New World”, 500 years after Colombus. Never mind, even some Dominicans don’t know about it either. Why? Because there is very little of it.
The outcrop of Dominican amber is much, much less than Baltic amber, therefore it is RARE in the true meaning and not all over the world. See: Blue Amber, how rare? Hence, it is not the amber jewelry you will see in the Supermarket next door or at the flea market in your neighborhood. And – this is VERY important – it is never treated, never “enhanced”, just natural amber as it comes from the mines. The real McCoy.
Although there are mines where even young Copal is found, much of the Dominican amber is real, old and hard amber. See Amber Turning Blue and Chemistry of Amber and scientific reference literature at the foot of this page.
Dominican Amber Mine Sites
The main sites in the Dominican Republic are located in La Cordillera Septentrional, in the north, Bayaguana and Sabana, in the east. In the northern area, the amber-bearing unit is formed of clastic rocks, sandstone accumulated in a deltaic or even deep-water environment and offers the oldest and hardest amber.
Since the amber in these mountains is tightly embedded in a lignite layer of sandstone, holes are dug into the sides of the cliffs. The miners accomplish their work only with the help of primitive, simple tools and risk their lives daily. Of course, some have started to use mechanical tools and machinery, but only where it is possible in view of the terrain.
There is also some amber in the (south-eastern Bayaguana/Sabana area. But it is softer, sometimes brittle and suffers oxidation after being taken from the mines. And there is also copal found with only an age of 15-17 million years. In the eastern area, the amber is found in a sediment formation of organic-rich laminated sand, sandy clay, intercalated lignite as well as some solated beds of gravel and calcarenite.
Both areas seem to have been part of the same sedimentary basin, but later disrupted by movements along major faults. (Iturralde-Vincent and MacPhee, 1996).
Dominican amber mines are not open to the common public. In most cases, the access and even the way to the mines is rather dangerous. There is no security or insurance and no reliable guide can be provided. If someone offers himself as a guide, he might not have in mind to give you a great day, but cut himself a deal selling at high prices to a gullible tourist. But, we invite you to a virtual trip to a Dominican amber mine, go to: Blue Amber Channel
Much information about Dominican Amber, its advantages and how it is mined you will find in the book ‘The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World’ by George Poinar, Jr., and Roberta Poinar
You might also want to consult: ‘Discovering the lost world of the amber forests’ by the BBC Radio.