Finding Science in My Mother’s Jewelry Box

Silver And Amber Bracelet

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As children, one of my and my sister’s favorite rainy-afternoon activities was looking through our Mother’s jewelry box. The daughter of a forester and the wife of a teacher, my Mom didn’t have dazzling diamonds and sapphires, but she did have interesting things. An ivory and silver broach that belonged to her great Aunt, a ring she made from a quarter when she was a girl, a whole box of Mardi Gras beads from her childhood in New Orleans (back when they threw real seed bead strings and not the cheap plastic stuff you see now). But by far our favorite piece was her amber necklace. The beautiful smooth golden stones were so clear it was easy to see the tiny pieces of— something— trapped inside.

Anyone whose sister wanted to be (and now is) a geologist, will tell you that amber isn’t a gemstone, it is fossilized tree resin (think the sticky stuff on Christmas trees).  And it turns out that amber has more to offer then just lovely and unusual jewelry. The arthropods and other organisms trapped in the fossilized resin (inclusions) act as well preserved reservoirs of information from the past. Combined with the amber itself, these gems can be used like thumb tacks in a timeline. And, as a paper published at the end of October in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science highlights (1), sometimes they can extend a timeline back. Continue reading “Finding Science in My Mother’s Jewelry Box”