THE GOLD OF THAT LAND: Biblical Minerals & Rocks  


 

4.     amber

Hebrew:

    1. leshem, dedicated to God; Septuagint, ligurion, amber from Liguria; Exodus 28:19, 39:12.

Probable Identification: amber

     2. chashmal, Ezekiel 1:4, 27; 8:2; Septuagint, electrou.

Probable Identification: Electrum. See “ELECTRUM.”

KJV’s translation of chashmal as amber is problematic and unsupported by recent translators. KJV follows the Vulgate in rendering the Septuagint’s elektrou as electrum, the Latin for amber. RV prefers “glowing metal,” RSV “gleaming bronze,” NIV “molten metal,” and NEB an uninspired “brass.” Linguistically, chashmal implies a substance with metallic luster.

Mineralogy:

Amber is fossilized tree resin. Strictly speaking, amber is termed a mineraloid because it is not crystalline but the fossilized resin of extinct conifers. Amber has a hardness of about 2.5 with a specific gravity of 1.05 to 1.1, and polishing brings out its resinous luster. Amber softens at temperatures over 150oC. Its electrostatic properties account for amber’s Greek name and for any confusion with electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver that is paler than pure gold. Baltic amber formed by the hardening of pine resin.

    Amber's warm yellow to yellow-orange color has made it a prized material for making beads and amulets since early in prehistoric times. Amber’s property of storing static electricity when rubbed gave it a reputation for magical qualities in the ancient world. Amber varies from opaque to transparent, and transparent specimens are prized for their inclusions of exquisitely-preserved fossil insects and plant fragments. Amber is soft enough to be easily carved for jewelry and ornamental objects.

    The Baltic region and the Netherlands coast were the principal sources of amber for the ancient world and the Baltic region still supplies 90 percent of today’s amber. The name ligurion derives from Liguria, the chief early Mediterranean trading source of Baltic amber. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder referred to the islands of the Netherlands and Friesian coast as insulae glessaridae, the amber islands. Wave action washes out lumps, nodules, and drops of amber from deltaic deposits of Eocene age on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Being just buoyant enough to float in salt water, wave action casts the lumps on beaches, rolls them around, and polishes them. On the Samland peninsula at its Jantarnyj mine, west of Kaliningrad in the Russian Oblast of Kaliningrad, the Jantarnyj Amber Combine extracts amber directly from a 1 to 9 m (3 to 30 ft) bed of blue clay beneath 25 to 40 m (80 to 130 ft) of surface sands and overburden. Other diggings lie near the shoreline and may go down as much as 50 m (160 ft) deep. A dark brown crust covers such "pit amber." 

Sicily is the source of a scarce, reddish-brown amber. Haiti, the Dominican Republic and southeast Asia also contain famous amber deposits. Other sources include Austria, Canada, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Poland, Russia, and the United States. Specimens of amber from Alava in northern Spain, dated at 115 to121 million years old, contain orb-weaving spiders and fragments of  spider web.

Historical Background:

    Tribes living in the Baltic region exploited its amber deposits for jewelry, ornaments, figurines and amulets early in prehistoric times. A trade in amber developed by 5000 BC, and Baltic amber articles made their way into Egyptian tombs by 3200 BC. The Phoenicians found sea routes to the Baltic by the thirteenth century BC. Their tales of mythical perils to conceal the secret of the "gold of the north" fooled Greek and Roman writers for centuries until the emperor Nero sent an expedition to uncover its source.

 

Sources:

Kunz, op. cit.; 295-296.

Lucas & Harris, op. cit.; 387-388.

Ralph, Jolyon, 1993-2004. http://www.mindat.org/min-188.html

Rice, Patty C., 1987. Amber: The Golden Gem of the Ages. New York: Kosciuszko Foundation; 20-22.

Schumann, Walter, 1997. Gemstones of the World. New York: Sterling Publishing; 228-229.

 

NOTE: AMBERGRIS

Ambergris is neither a form of amber nor a mineral but a solid organic substance that forms as biliary concretions in the intestines of sperm whales. It is usually found floating at sea or cast up on beaches, but originates as a soft white, fatty and waxy material that coats the indigestible beaks of squid and cuttlefish. It hardens and darkens during exposure to the atmosphere and seawater. Ambergris still has value in the perfume industry because of its property of absorbing and fixing fragrances.

For further information about ambergris, please refer to:

Ambergris in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambergris .

Answers about Ambergris in http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/support/lib/seas/seasQA/QAs/a/ambergris.html.

Murphy, Robert Cushman, 1933. Floating Gold: The Romance of Ambergris. Http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/editors_pick/1933_05-06_pick.html.

Ralph, Randy D. , 1994-2005. Ambergris: A Pathfinder and Annotated Bibliography. http://www.netstrider.com/documents/ambergris/ 

 

 

 


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