amber inclusion archive

British amber

Based in the Highlands of Scotland, Hugo Gill is on hand to serve clients throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland with the provision of Burmite amber from Myanmar for scientific research.

Hugo Gill
Advanced Amber Kretaceous Zoologia (UK Representative)
Tel: 01463 871753
Mobile: 07926 031783
Skype: highland_hugo

How did Amber get to Norfolk?

Baltic amber was probably transported towards Britain during the ice age (in the last few hundred thousand years) by ice sheets moving out of southern Scandinavia and across the North Sea. Today it may be derived by erosion of glacial deposits in the cliffs of Norfolk, or deposits offshore and washed onto our beaches. There appears to have been more amber found in the past than now, perhaps because cliff erosion has been reduced by coast protection works that have been built in the 20th century. In the 19th century several Cromer traders advertised themselves as amber dealers and craftsmen.

Nowadays, a few local people walk the Norfolk beaches regularly and collect small amounts, especially after winter storms have driven the amber ashore. It is said to be found most commonly on the strandline, where the amberweed (Flustra foliacea) gathers but may also be caught amongst the stones on the foreshore.

The Amber Coast Suffolk

Scientists have confirmed that threads found within amber deposits from the Sussex coast are the world's oldest known spider webs, dating back to 140 million years ago.

The tiny tangled filaments date back 140 million years and are linked to each other in the roughly circular pattern familiar to gardeners everywhere.

The web appears to be similar to those of modern orb web spiders, which weave a spiral of silk to catch insect prey.

The amber was found by an amateur fossil hunter whilst looking for dinosaur remains, and was handed over to palaeobiologist Professor Martin Brasier whose findings are published in the the Journal of the Geological Society.

The tiny threads about 1 millimetre (1/20th of an inch) long are held in suspension amid bits of burnt sap and fossilized vegetable matter.

Prof Brasier, of the University of Oxford, said: "This amber is very rare. It comes from the very base of the Cretaceous period, which makes it one of the oldest ambers anywhere to have inclusions in it." The amber was found on a beach famous for fossilised dinosaur tracks near Bexhill, in East Sussex. Pieces of charred bark and burnt sap inside the amber suggest the trees that produced the fossilised resin had been damaged in a fire and produced the droplets of resin to protect itself from infection.

The beaches between Felixstowe and Southwold are a great place to look for amber – fossilised resin from the ancient forests that grew on the land beneath the Baltic Sea. Raw amber looks like a dull brown stone – it's only when it's polished that it comes to life, and you might even spot something sealed inside it. Learn more about the geology of the Suffolk coast at

Cretaceous amber (from the Isle of Wight) also exhibits similar properties. It may be surprising to some that the oldest ‘amber’ (also known as middletonite) to have been found with inclusions was found from the coalfields of Ayrshire in Scotland. John Smith published this discovery in 1894, describing the inclusions as parts of coniferous plants and fungi. Although the actual specimens John Smith studied are now lost to science, new research using some of the more modern techniques like 3D X-ray imaging, which looks at opaque amber, may eventually reveal evidence of such inclusions in this type of resin. There are also folklore and traditions associated with amber in Scotland, but, as yet, no sources for any amber (post-Carboniferous). So where has all this amber-lore come from? It was most likely brought by visitors and immigrants from Scandinavia and northern Europe over the millennia. Scotland has had strong historical and commercial links with these Baltic and other northern amber states that is reflected in the place names (such as John O’Groats or Valtos) and language (words like ‘Kirk’ or ‘Bairn’). In prehistoric times, during the later Neolithic until about 3,700 years ago, amber use in the British Isles was still rare. However, Neolithic finds are known from Scotland at this time. Four irregular beads of amber, associated with jet beads and an axe, were found in a burial mound (over 4,000 years old) at Greenbrae, near Cruden in Aberdeenshire. In the past, the presence of amber in Neolithic burials has been used as evidence for trade with Europe. However, the fact that this amber is irregular in shape and is unlike amber being traded elsewhere in Europe, might suggest that it was not traded, but rather collected and worked locally.

Amber Hill Mine, Scordale, Hilton, Escarpment District, Cumbria, England, UK

Latitude & Longitude (WGS84): 54° 35' 39'' North , 2° 22' 6'' West
Latitude & Longitude (decimal): 54.5943035434, -2.36838708342
UK National Grid Reference: NY762222
Other/historical region names associated with this locality: North Pennines; South Eastern Region; Westmorland; North Pennines; South Eastern Region; Westmorland

Small barytes workings up Stow Gill to the south east of Hilton Mines.

The gill and flanks of Amber Hill are strewn with large amounts of mineralised material from which smallish pale yellow fluorite cubes, barite and galena can easily be collected.

Groyne at Waxham Horsey - Eccles Coast, Norfolk, England, UK
Collecting area is at far end of beach beyond the last sea defence
Sidestrand beach, Cromer, Norfolk, England, UK
Chalk Exposures on Beach
Sidestrand beach, Cromer, Norfolk, England, UK
The coalfield of Ayrshire are home to carboniferous amber - the oldest amber with inclusions on this planet found so far. Scotland is the last location that most people think of when considering amber. However, it is the location where some of the oldest inclusions in tree resin have been discovered (dating back to the Carboniferous). Different cultures have different definitions of amber. Although its exact origin is unknown, it is made of fossilized tree resin, not sap. Most people would agree that other fossilized tree resins (such as the amber from the Eocene of the Dominican Republic or the Cretaceous amber from the Isle of Wight) also exhibit similar qualities. Some people believe that Baltic amber (or succinite) is the only authentic amber. Some people might find it strange that the oldest 'amber' (also known as middletonite) with inclusions was discovered in the Scottish coalfields of Ayrshire.

In 1894, John Smith announced this discovery and identified the inclusions as being from fungi and coniferous plants. Though the actual specimens John Smith studied are no longer available to researchers, new studies using some of the more contemporary methods, such as 3D X-ray imaging, which examines opaque amber, may eventually find proof of such inclusions in this kind of resin. Scotland has traditions and mythology related to amber as well, however there are currently no references for post-Carboniferous amber. So where did all of this lore about amber come from? Over the centuries, it was probably brought by travelers and immigrants from Scandinavia and northern Europe. As evidenced by the close historical and economic ties between Scotland and these Baltic and other northern amber republics.

In prehistoric times, during the late Neolithic until about 3,700 years ago, the use of amber was still rare in the British Isles. However, Neolithic finds from this period are known from Scotland. Four irregular amber balls, along with ray balls and an axe, were found in a burial mound (over 4,000 years old) at Greenbrae, near Cruden in Aberdeenshire. In the past, the presence of amber in Neolithic graves has been used as evidence of trade with Europe.

However, the fact that this amber is irregularly shaped and not comparable to amber traded elsewhere in Europe may indicate that it was not traded, but collected and worked locally. The amber itself is exactly the same Baltic material that was processed in Europe at the time, but made its way to Britain via the North Sea. This is not unusual, as amber often washes up on the east coast of England and sometimes even shows up in Scotland. In the northern part of the Baltic Sea region, the Vikings dominated maritime trade routes in the eighth to tenth centuries. Amber was an important trade item for the Vikings and was used for jewellery, game items, and religious artefacts. Amber grave goods from this period are often found in association with Viking graves, including the British hoard from the Knowe of Moan in Orkney. The Vikings were not alone in the Baltic for long, however, as in the eleventh Century A.D., Curonian pirates from Lithuania and Latvia gained power and challenged the Vikings, frequently raiding the Scandinavian coast. Both the Vikings and the Kurons became rich from their booty and trade in amber with the rest of Europe. Why was amber of such importance to ancient Scots? Was it because it looked like a sunbeam that had solidified into stone? Was it because it had the appearance of gold, yet weighed only a fraction of it? Or was it because it was easy to carve, burned well, and gave off fumes that made you feel good? Perhaps it was a combination of all these properties that led to the myths and legends that surround amber. One well-known property of amber has led to its everyday use around the world - its use as a medicine. It is still used today in many countries, but was known in mainstream Western medicine until the 1950s as part of liniments used to treat whooping cough. Since the discovery of amber by man in prehistoric times, it is likely that it was used as a medicine in some form. The Greek physician Hippocrates was one of the first to record the use of amber in medicine, but it is likely that it had been used in this way long before before that. It is not unknown that other fossils were also used as remedies. In the early eighteenth century, the Scottish author Martin Martin of Marrishadder that Jurassic ammonites and belemnites were put in water to relieve dysentery, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, worms, and cramps on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. In fact, on Skye, a piece of amber now in the National Museums of Scotland was used at least into the eighteenth century to relieve poor eyesight by rubbing it on the eyelids. There are several beads and amulets made of amber (called lammar in Scotland) Scotland) that were used to cure a variety of diseases. Oneamulet from Argyllshire was used to cure poor eyesight, another as a Highland amulet to cure cattle of a variety of diseases. Other countries in Europe and elsewhere amber was similarly used to cure disease.

In 1502 AD, Camillus Leonardus, an Italian astronomer, mineralogist, and physician, suggested that if you put amber on your wife while she is sleeping, "all her evil deeds will be revealed." It is not clear from his writings how this manifested itself, but it is hard to imagine that it could have troubled all too many wives. At the same time that the amber business in Prussia was beginning to flag in the 16th century, it was popular for women in the fishing villages on the east coast of Scotland to wear a necklace of amber beads. They also hung amber beads on their children to protect them from evil. The MacDonalds of Glencoe owned a set of amber beads that were used to cure blindness. Elsewhere, amber beads were also used as a cure for sore eyes and sprained limbs. Around 1575, a huge piece of amber was found on the Buchan coast a huge piece of amber washed ashore: "arrivit ane gret lomp of this goum in Buchquhane, als mekle as ane hors" (" ... arrived a large piece of amber in Buchan, as big as a horse"). Although the text was originally written in Latin by Bishop John Leslie of Ross in his book on the history of Scotland of 1578, it was translated by Father James Dalrymple in 1596 and translated into the Scots language. It is possible that the Latin text was mistranslated and said only that a really large piece of amber washed up on the Buchan coast, not one the size of a horse. Perhaps this large piece of amber was broken up to be sold as a talisman to the fishermen.

In the late eighteenth century, a smuggler named Carnochan from Galloway in southern Scotland wore an oval amber bead around his neck. It was over 2 inches in diameter and 1.3 inches thick, with a silver ring through the perforation. The story goes that Carnochan made it from a bing o'eththers (The snakes were busy making the amber bead. The snakes coiled together in midsummer and created a bubble' in the shape of a ring. Then they hissed and puffed and threw the ring into the air with their tails, whereupon the ring hardened like glass. It was believed that whoever possessed such a stone was wealthy and could cure diseases. This is strikingly similar to the stories told in many cultures, including the Lapps, about powerful' snake stones. Carnochan wore the amber bead on a band around his neck and used it to cure backgaun weans (sick children), elfshot kye (sick cattle), and sick beass (sick animals), and as a talisman to ward off the effects of the 'evil eye." For the bead to be used, it was dipped three times in water, which was then given to the sick child or animal to drink. Carnochan lost it one fateful day while digging for worms in his garden and his luck ran out on him. His smuggled booty and hiding place were found, and he died in poverty. Many years later, one of his grandsons found it in the garden. To see if it still had healing powers, it was used in an attempt to cure 'Jean Craig's cat'. Unfortunately, the cat died, so it was thought to be of no further use, and it was eventually given to Dr. Robert de Brus Trotter of Perth. What happened to her after that is unknown, but there are several such beads in museum collections in Scotland.

We would like to thank Dr Neil Clark of the University of Glasgow for doing much of the Scottish amber research.

Amber valley in Derbyshire has many sites where amber may be found with ages between 315 and 350 million years old.

The following Cumbria mines only allow scientists to collect amber. The Amber Zone is off-limits for collecting except in cases where a sound scientific case for collecting is given to the Lake District National Park Authority. A permit is then required, which must be obtained in the calendar year prior to the dates for the field trip. Brae Fell main dumps

Brae Fell Mine, Roughton Gill, Caldbeck, Allerdale, Cumbria, England, UK
Spoils At Carrock..Carrock Mine, Mungrisdale, Eden, Cumbria, England, UK
Brae fell mine levels.
Brae Fell Mine, Roughton Gill, Caldbeck, Allerdale, Cumbria, England, UK
Claims of amber from Hastings called 'firestorm' is supposedly from the Jurassic period although we are yet to confirm this.

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