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@Work: Amber Museum

June 21, 2009 — While the world caught fossil fever with the discovery of "Ida," the remains of a 47-million-year-old primate, St. Thomas is host to some of the bugs that could have pestered her.
Thankfully, the insects are contained. Whole fossilized insects that Ida and her like could have either eaten or swatted await, encased in petrified resin, for visitors to the Caribbean World Amber Museum.
Worms, caterpillars, mosquitoes, flies, mites and liver worms are all sheathed in amber in a number the museum’s displays. But the museum’s star attraction is the world’s most recently discovered amber — green amber found only in this region.
Caribbean amber is a lively light spring green hue, similar to the color of a peridot. Six years ago the unusual amber was discovered on the Haitian side of the island of Hispaniola.
The color of Caribbean amber comes from volcanic ash in the soil and environment, as well as the nature of the tree that gave the resin. Amber can range in color from honey, cognac, butterscotch and dark cherry to Baltic green and Caribbean green, said Molly Brine, museum spokeswoman.
While amber is found in Europe, Asia, North America and in the Caribbean in the Dominican Republic, Columbia and Mexico, don’t expect to find amber in the backyard here — amber has not been found on St. Thomas.
A 20-foot tall and eight-foot wide waterfall sculpture made out of amber greets visitors on entering the courtyard that leads to the museum. The wall is made up of some 12,000 individual stones, which range in age from 25,000 years to 90 million years old, and the stones weigh only 330 pounds.
While often referred to as a stone, amber is petrified tree resin. When certain sap-producing trees were injured either by insect or other damage, the tree would leak sap to cover the insult. Over time the sap moved down the tree toward the ground and, being very sticky, would ensnare debris, such as pieces of bark, insects or pieces of flora.
Amber looks like a typical mined gemstone, but the similarity stops when you pick it up — you’ll realize there is a major weight difference. Amber is light as a feather, making wearing large pieces of it easier than some of its gemstone cousins.
A tour through the museum costs $2 and shows visitors a glimpse of what it was like in a Cetaceous Period rain forest, complete with coqui greetings, which was home to now extinct trees, such as the maple pine, which oozed the sap that created the amber, according to Danielle Wiltshire, who works in the museum’s shop.
The museum displays amber from all over the world, amber which has been mined and amber that has washed up on shorelines.
Unpolished, polished and cut stones show amber in its many forms.
"Once polished, you can see better into the interior colors of the amber," Brine said.
In addition to the stones in their unpolished and uncut form, the museum also has a number of examples of antique amber jewelry, some as old as 4000 BC.
Being light is not the only unique thing about the amber — it is also quite soft, rating 2 on a scale where diamonds are an 8.
The oldest sap in the world is from Burma — at 350 million years old, the museum has examples of this and of the world’s youngest amber — called copal, which is only about 15 million years old, according to Brine.
The museum shop has an extensive and varied collection of jewelry for sale in price ranges for nearly all budgets.
The Caribbean World Amber Museum is located in Hotel 1829 on Government Hill. For more information, click here or call 340-776-1829.

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June 21, 2009 -- While the world caught fossil fever with the discovery of "Ida," the remains of a 47-million-year-old primate, St. Thomas is host to some of the bugs that could have pestered her.
Thankfully, the insects are contained. Whole fossilized insects that Ida and her like could have either eaten or swatted await, encased in petrified resin, for visitors to the Caribbean World Amber Museum.
Worms, caterpillars, mosquitoes, flies, mites and liver worms are all sheathed in amber in a number the museum's displays. But the museum's star attraction is the world's most recently discovered amber -- green amber found only in this region.
Caribbean amber is a lively light spring green hue, similar to the color of a peridot. Six years ago the unusual amber was discovered on the Haitian side of the island of Hispaniola.
The color of Caribbean amber comes from volcanic ash in the soil and environment, as well as the nature of the tree that gave the resin. Amber can range in color from honey, cognac, butterscotch and dark cherry to Baltic green and Caribbean green, said Molly Brine, museum spokeswoman.
While amber is found in Europe, Asia, North America and in the Caribbean in the Dominican Republic, Columbia and Mexico, don't expect to find amber in the backyard here -- amber has not been found on St. Thomas.
A 20-foot tall and eight-foot wide waterfall sculpture made out of amber greets visitors on entering the courtyard that leads to the museum. The wall is made up of some 12,000 individual stones, which range in age from 25,000 years to 90 million years old, and the stones weigh only 330 pounds.
While often referred to as a stone, amber is petrified tree resin. When certain sap-producing trees were injured either by insect or other damage, the tree would leak sap to cover the insult. Over time the sap moved down the tree toward the ground and, being very sticky, would ensnare debris, such as pieces of bark, insects or pieces of flora.
Amber looks like a typical mined gemstone, but the similarity stops when you pick it up -- you'll realize there is a major weight difference. Amber is light as a feather, making wearing large pieces of it easier than some of its gemstone cousins.
A tour through the museum costs $2 and shows visitors a glimpse of what it was like in a Cetaceous Period rain forest, complete with coqui greetings, which was home to now extinct trees, such as the maple pine, which oozed the sap that created the amber, according to Danielle Wiltshire, who works in the museum's shop.
The museum displays amber from all over the world, amber which has been mined and amber that has washed up on shorelines.
Unpolished, polished and cut stones show amber in its many forms.
"Once polished, you can see better into the interior colors of the amber," Brine said.
In addition to the stones in their unpolished and uncut form, the museum also has a number of examples of antique amber jewelry, some as old as 4000 BC.
Being light is not the only unique thing about the amber -- it is also quite soft, rating 2 on a scale where diamonds are an 8.
The oldest sap in the world is from Burma -- at 350 million years old, the museum has examples of this and of the world's youngest amber -- called copal, which is only about 15 million years old, according to Brine.
The museum shop has an extensive and varied collection of jewelry for sale in price ranges for nearly all budgets.
The Caribbean World Amber Museum is located in Hotel 1829 on Government Hill. For more information, click here or call 340-776-1829.