Just by looking at a piece, it is almost impossible to tell whether it is real amber or younger tree resin. Tests such as whether
it floats or picks up a charge of static electricity can help to determine real amber from fake. Photo by Maya Walters.
Amber from the Baltic region was spread across
Africa when the Balts traded with the Romans, who then traded with the Egyptians. Some amber was formed in Africa, but its source long
remained a mystery. Most of the "amber" pieces that can be bought in many parts of the world are fakes, and sources of true amber in
any particular region can be difficult to locate.
still such a valuable product that manufacturers of false pieces are common. Some fakes are simply made of plastic. Others are made
from real amber that is melted together with plastic to form a different substance. Still others are lumps of present-day tree sap, which may
look similar to amber but have not gone through the hardening processes that take many millions of years. Pieces of amber with
"inclusions" trapped inside are always worth more than plain amber. The fakes that are hardest to detect are made of genuine amber with
a hole melted inside, where a present-day insect or other inclusion is placed, then sealed over with melted amber.
carved amber into jewelry as early as 15,000 years ago. Commercial amber trade in Europe probably began around 3500 B.C. It
is believed that the presence of amber is responsible for the Bronze Age reaching northern Europe. In these northern areas,
there was an abundance of amber, but a lack of metals. The Greeks and Romans wanted amber so badly that they were willing
to trade metals to get it, and this was how northern tribes got the materials to make Bronze Age weapons and tools.