Amber, also called succinite, is not a true rock or crystal, but is actually formed from the fossilized resin (not sap) of both ancient coniferous and deciduous trees. Amber takes millions of years to harden[sc:1].
How is amber made?
Resin is thought to be secreted by and dripped down trees in response to a wound such as a broken branch, or to protect the tree from diseases and from being injured by insects and fungi.
As the resin drips down a tree’s trunk and into its internal fissures, debris such as seeds, leaves, feathers, and insects may become buried in the resin.
When a tree dies and falls down to the ground, the resin remains and continues to harden from the heat and the pressure that is generated as it is buried under multiple layers of vegetation, soil, and water (in some cases). By the time that the resin has completely hardened, millions of years have passed.
Because the resin is sticky in the beginning, plants and animal parts can become entrapped and are later fossilized. Intact specimens preserved in amber have allowed scientists to learn more about what the Earth was like when it was younger.
What is amber used for?
Amber has been prized for thousands of years by humans because of its beauty.
The Ancient Greeks prized amber, believing that it promoted health and kept evil spirits away. Amber beads were discovered near Stonehenge, England in graves that date back 3,550 years ago, and amber beads, amulets, and carvings have been found during archeological digs in northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia[sc:2]. To the Romans, amber was so valuable that things made out of amber were considered to be of greater worth than slaves.
More modern uses of amber include jewelry, smoking articles such as cigar/cigarette holders and mouthpieces for pipes, objects of art, and devotional articles such as Buddhist rosaries, sacred figures, and amulets. In the St. Brygida Church in Golausk, Poland, amber was even used as a building material[sc:3].
A few fun facts about amber
Amber is found in a variety of colors, from cloudy white, to clear yellow, to nearly black.
Baltic amber, a type of amber found near the Baltic Sea, contains succinic acid, which is claimed to block pain and decrease inflammation in the body[sc:4].
Amber received a great deal of attention in the film Jurassic Park as the source of dinosaur DNA that all of the dinosaurs in the park were created from. However, according to scientists, ancient DNA structures are not preserved very well within amber[sc:5].