The Amber Room

These fossil insects which I found in central NJ are from the Turonion period of the Upper Cretaceous, about 92 Million years old. The insects in amber from this site are among the oldest found in the world. Recent finds from New Jersey include the oldest mushroom, the oldest flower in amber, the oldest ants, and the oldest feather from a terrestrial bird in North America. Biting insects have also been found, making extraction of dinosaur DNA a possibility.

Leafhopper A leafhopper. Note the airbubbles, some of which also contain water. 

The amber from New Jersey tends to be found mostly as small pieces, and it is commonly cloudy or even opaque. However, most of the insects inclusions are new to science, making it very significant to researchers. They are currently under study by Dr David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History. Along with the amber is found the well preserved leaves and wood of various trees and shrubs. Although the tree responsible for the amber hasn't been positively identified, it is believed to be related to the cedar family. Myself and several other collectors found a single lignitized log with thin layers of amber within the wood. Analyzing this wood might determine the species of the amber tree.
A very well preserved midge
Although the preservation of some of the insects is exquisite, others are obscured by plant debris, oxidation, and air bubbles, making photography difficult. Careful preparation is usually necessary.

Jersococcus kurthii
A beetle
An unidentified insect, possibly a wood-boring beetle
The best site was located in central NJ a few years ago by amateur fossil collectors. Amber has been found from a number of other localities in NJ, though it has always been very rare and usually in droplets too small to preserve insects. Diggings in a sand and clay pit revealed a layer of carbonized wood fragments and leaves, known as lignite. The layers are from less than an inch to several feet thick. Amber is most abundant in these layers, though occasionally it is also present in the gray clay and sand layers above and below the lignite. Apparently the light weight amber was washed into streams and rivers, where it was deposited onto the banks along with small twigs and leaves. Areas where the lignite consists of heavier logs have almost no amber.

Unlike localities like the Dominican Republic where the amber containing layers are rock, the clay and lignite is soft and unconsolidated, so it can easily be dug using shovels and trowels. Paleontologists recently excavated the site using heavy equipment, recovering a considerable amount of amber.

More Amber Pictures Return to Main page

Amber Exhibit at NJ State Museum
Sites featuring amber: Books on amber:

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Steve Kurth