The ancient forests were full of life, including dinosaurs, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and tiny mammals that scurried through the undergrowth. When a tree was damaged or attacked, it secreted a viscous sticky substance called resin.
The organic material in coal turns to coal tar, which traps the remnants of tree resin. The copal then fossilizes into amber, which preserves the creatures entombed within, giving paleontologists a window back in time.
Amber preserves fossil remains, and when you look at some of the specimens, they actually look like they died yesterday. This allows paleontologists to study the finest details of the morphologies of the animals, plants, and microorganisms preserved in amber.
The way we find amber in Australia is a little different to how we find amber around the world. In Australia we find amber in cold deposits, but in the Baltic Sea and the Dominican Republic we find amber eroded out over thousands of years.
Most of the amber that was originally found in Australia was found just on the beaches as float. However, a bunch of researchers from Monash found some amber rich coal in Anglesey.
Can fossils of dinosaurs be found in amber?
We’ve been working on these fossils for a couple of years now, but the coal mine was about to shut down. We got diggers to take out a huge bunch of coal and take it here, but we only got a small amount of amber.
When we first prepare the amber out, we scratch away at the coal surrounding the amber with hand tools to try and get the amber out. We only focus on the big pieces of amber because they’re worth getting out.
In the angular deposit, we get several kinds of amber. We want to get clear amber that is either green or orange that has inclusions in it.
We don’t really know why the green amber has more stuff in it, but we do know that it was a tastier tree.
Once we have a collection of amber from a piece of coal, we paint it with water to clear it up and look for bio inclusions. Sometimes we find something that looks like a mite or nematode.
If we can’t see anything in the amber, we use X-rays to create a 3d model of the amber, and then researchers can look through it and write papers on the bio inclusions that we find.
To look into the amber, we’ve got to clean off all the excess coal, wash it with water, and temporarily remove the distortions with Cedarwood Oil.
When people look through a microscope, they can see details of 100 million year old creatures. They can also see insects and plant remains, and can embed the remains in resin to protect them.
What did the Earth look like during the Jurassic period?
The first time I polished anything, I polished away half of a flyaway, which was a mistake, but we could image the other half.
There we go, a few mites, nematodes, bits of moss, and maybe some fly legs. These are the really small things that we’re talking about, but they’re exciting because they’re 40 to 42 million years old.
My specialties are plants and geology, and I really enjoy working with amber, which is a plant resin. Miners have been mining amber in Northern Myanmar for over 2 000 years, and the amber represents a terrestrial ecosystem that’s about 99 million years old.
So the tree gives us a glimpse into a tropical environment 99 to 100 million years ago. It produced a lot of resin and sometimes something absolutely extraordinary was found.
We’ve found a dinosaur wing in the Burmite, and we’re trying to reconstruct what type of dinosaur it was by studying the feathers and tissue bones.
Within a piece of amber from Myanmar, scientists have found feathers from a dinosaur wingtip. The feathers are similar to modern bird feathers, but lack some distinguishing features that would allow us to determine that the dinosaur is a modern bird.
We want to understand the evolutionary history of feathers by analyzing the feathers of this specimen. This will help us understand how modern environments would react to climate change or other disruptions in evolutionary processes.
They have found specimens with quite vibrant coloration, which suggests that dinosaurs had vibrant colors and creative patterns even 99 million years ago. Through synchrotron scanning, it might be possible to identify the species and determine the species age.
Why are so many fossils in amber?
Paleontology has advanced so much in terms of imaging that we can use several techniques to study fossils, including Leica microscopes, Bk imaging system, micro Ct scanning and advanced synchrotron radiation.
When you’re holding a fossil, you can use advanced chemical techniques to look at the elemental composition of the fossil to see if there’s anything preserved.
Raman spectroscopy is a technique to study molecular bonds in our sample by scattering light on the sample. The scattered radiation has the same energy as the incident beam, plus or minus the energy of the bonds present in our sample.
There’s still something going on with amber fakes, and you can test for fakes by looking at the specimens associated with the piece, and by looking for organic debris in the piece.
Amber has no inclusions, froth, or little bubbles, and fluoresces a brilliant blue in the ultraviolet light. It also melts at 200 to 250 degrees centigrade and is used in varnishes and medicines.
The inclusions in the resin are reconstituted, and the finest trichomes are gone if the resin is reheated.
There are lots of different techniques paleontologists can use to confirm a fossil, but usually a paleontologist with lots of experience can look at a specimen straight away and say okay, this is this is not right or sure you know this looks right to me.
Paleontologists are finding many different types of animals and plants in burmite from Myanmar, which is 100 million years old. These fossils are giving them clues as to what kinds of organisms lived in this ancient tropical forest.
In order to date coal, we look at the surrounding coal, the surrounding coal’s stratigraphic seconds, and then we look for other fossils within the coal, such as insects, plant remains, and pollen. We can use the pollen to narrow down the age of coal.
Paleontologists have found a fossil of two flies mating, which is 42 to 40 million years old, in the Alcoa Mine in Australia. It’s the only fossil ever found in Australia that actually shows sexual population happening or mating.
Paleontologists are trying to learn more about the cretaceous ecosystem in Myanmar from the Amber. It was a tropical environment, with higher Co2 levels and temperatures.
Paleontologists study ancient ecosystems to understand where we came from and how we’ve evolved over time. They focus on deposits that capture all these ancient remains as much as they can.
Amber is very useful to study the terrestrial environments of ancient organisms, and ant fossils in Australia are giving us insight into ant evolution for the first time.
The monomorium ant has lived in Australia for at least 40 million years, and its fossils are preserved in amber. It’s a fascinating thing to see the actual part of the animal that existed a hundred million years ago.