Mexican Amber is a fossilized resin that exuded from the bark of an ancient long extinct tree. It is not the same as sap which is a nutrient for the tree rising through the heartwood. The ambers antiseptic properties protect the tree from disease and attacks from wood gnawing and burrowing insects. As it exuded as blobs or stalactites which drip or flow down the trunk or branches of the tree. the resin acted as a sticky trap entombing flora and fauna.
This amber with inclusions is a natural time capsule. The best pieces capturing a moment in time from millions of years ago. Most amber is from the Baltic region or from the Dominican Republic. Mexican amber, often also known as Chiapas amber is from Mexico's most southern state which borders Guatemala. It brings a much-needed income to some of the poorest people in Mexico. It is quite rare. The mining is very much a cottage industry. The indigenous Tzotzil Mayan tunnel and burrow into the mountainside using simple hand tools. The mining is somewhat seasonal when they are not working on the maze or coffee crop. Sometimes the production can be in total a few kilos a day.
From the latest research it appears that Mexican amber is form the Oligocene/Miocene in age some 24-30 million years ago. This amber is natural not treated like most Baltic amber. It often has a lovely fluorescence to it and produces good natural red amber. Though it was known to the ancient Maya and traded to the Aztecs and other tribes. The Spanish conquistadors tell of the Aztec Emperor Montezuma stirring his chocolate with an amber spoon. It was first introduced to the modern world by the eminent archaeologist. Frans Blom. Blom was born in 1893 in Copenhagen into a middle class Danish family. He was restless and traveled to Mexico. He found work in the oil industry as a paymaster. Traveling to remote locations in the Mexican jungle he became interested in the Mayan ruins he encountered. He obtained a degree in archaeologist from Harvard University. He helped document many ancient Mayan archaeological sites and discovered the ancient Mayan site of Uaxatun. He was one of the foremost experts on Mayan archeology and culture. He became aware of amber deposits in the Simojovel area of Chiapas and sent samples with insect inclusions to the University of California.
This sparked off such interest that soon after in 1953 a group of scientists from California’s museum of Paleontology, Berkeley arranged with Blom to visit the amber deposits in the Simojovel area. Blom owned a large house in the Spanish colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas. It was a cultural and artistic center. They set off with Blom in a jeep for Simojovel in the Chiapas highlands. This was something like a 60-mile journey on a dirt road that winded through the mountains. They experienced much difficulty with landslides and rock falls etc. Added to that the local indigenous were not used to outsiders and were often hostile. Despite the problems the expedition was successful. Stratigraphic mapping was undertaken. Amber with inclusions was obtained. One new find was a new species of a stingless bee. The most significant collection of Mexican amber is at the University of California Museum Berkeley. It was assembled by PD Hurd Jnr and other scientists in the 1950's. My first visit to Simojovel in 1974-75. It was still an isolated area and hard to get to.
It was Dr. George Poinar's research work into DNA in amber inclusions which gave Michael Chrichton his idea for the book Jurassic Park. On the day of the film release of Jurassic Park Dr. Poinar, and his team of scientists announced that they had made a breakthrough in extracting DNA from an extinct bee in Dominican amber. This set off much interest in the inclusions in amber.