April 11, 2021

Scientists Going Mad (!) Over Myanmar Amber

Can paleontologists get luckier? A dinosaur’s head stuck in amber, an extinct 3-D goblin-spider; creatures that dominated Myanmar’s marshes 100 million years ago and still preserved today in clear amber. That’s twice the age of amber from the Baltics, and five times Mexico’s Amber.

“Myanmar amber is driving Scientists mad!”, said Roger Long, Curator, Myanmar Amber Museum. “Nowhere in the world is amber found that’s so unique. No palaeontologist believed that a head of a dinosaur, ok a small dinosaur, could be captured in resin. Yet here in Myanmar that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Photo: Myanmar Amber Museum.

99 million years ago, Myanmar was nothing more than a series of warm wet islands, an environmental embryo of developing animal life.

The whole world back then was a hothouse where thick luscious vegetation covered the land. In the pristine jungle environment conifers thrived, huge trees with trunks 6 meters wide, around the size of a large bedroom, and stretched into the sky up to 100 meters, around 130 human steps.

Tarbosaurs Illustration by Sergey Krasovskiy.

The world was very different back then, with 50% more oxygen in the air than we breathe now.

It wasn’t always peaceful as cyclones ravaged the low-lying islands, with 200 kilometer winds exploding through the trees.

It was times like this that huge branches that stretched from the conifer trunk would thud onto the ground.

In the stillness of time resin oozed from the tree to the damaged branch. Resin is tree blood, that seals the exposed wood, providing protection from aggressive insects, ants or even bacteria. As resin dries over millions of years it becomes amber, and sometimes preserving unusual creatures.

Donald The Leech.

“My favourite amber is a leech that I named ‘Donald’,” said Long.

A leech in a tree?

Donald may have sucked the blood of a Microraptor, a winged dinosaur.

Microraptor Illustration by Sergey Krasovskiy.

The ancient dinosaur could have landed on a conifer branch, pulling Donald off with its beak and sticking him into the sap, never to suck blood again.

Or maybe a branch fell to the earth leaking sap into the mud.

For Donald to survive 99 million years, conditions over time must be just right. Amber is not like diamonds or sapphires, it’s soft can be crushed or easily disintegrate if exposed to harsh weather.

Amber needs a deep muddy marsh to be preserved. Above the mud no heavy earth must accumulate or the amber is squashed.

Trees die, falling to the ground and in time and give life to new conifers. Over millions of years some forests become coal, hiding deep underneath is a treasure chest of golden amber and it’s captured animals.

Myanmar millions of years ago was a series of islands in the Tethys ocean.

350 million-years ago, there was only one continent on earth, Pangaea. About 175 million years ago it started to break apart with continental drift.

40 million-years-ago India drifted striking the islands and oceans, twisting, squeezing up the land. Today that mountain range stretches from the Himalayas through Myanmar.

History Of The Amber Museum’s

In 2016, with buckets full of resin, Long committed to sharing his passion for amber, it’s history and beauty. The Myanmar Amber Museum provided sanctuary for children, families, anyone to get lost in an old exciting world.

Over the years he’s sourced his collections from the Bogyoke Markets with the most remarkable pieces sourced from the Hukawng Valley.

Miners find amber 100 meters deep into the ground, and sometimes on the surface.

“Every piece of amber you touch has the potential for a new discovery,” said Long.

Out of the ground amber looks rough and cloudy.  As you rub the surface an aroma is released of 99-million-year-old pine resin.

As the surface thins there is tension, anticipation; an incompatible high to see secrets exposed.  “I’m simply addicted to amber.”

Click: To See The Rock Surface Being Cleaned

Oh, all the scientific thrills this is the best. “Jurassic Park” the movie cloned DNA found in amber.

It seems that this is not science fiction, “From Myanmar amber amino acid, the essential building blocks of proteins found in bones, has been extracted from the wing of a bird,” so exciting!

The Myanmar Amber Museum is currently closed but will be reopening in a new location, even bigger and better. Look for the announcement in the near future.


First published Myanmore: Writer Mary Banfield

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