Lizard and Other Inclusions in Baltic Amber

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In the middle of June 1997, on a wooded sand dune in Gdansk, Poland, Gabriela Gierlowska spotted a small amber piece with a unique lizard. The surface of the lump was strongly oxidized, mat,covered with a dark grey marsh sediment, and in its shape and size resembled an immature pine cone (rotten cones often accompany accumulations of amber). The cone-shaped piece was 50 x 35 x 14 mm in size, and on its longest side there was a depression filled with black silt.

lizard in amber
Gabriela Gierlowska discovered the inclusion while polishing the stone. After removing the opaque, oxidized layer, inside a lump of homogenous, translucent amber, appeared a well-preserved lizard. The inclusion enabled recognizing many anatomical details with an unaided eye, while stereomicroscope and macrophotography revealed still finer details.

After grinding, the size of the lump decreased to 38 x 29 x 10 mm, weighing 7 g. The lizard is incomplete: it lacks the tip of the tail and a considerable fragment of the back. The total length of the preserved animal is 37 mm.

The slightly upward-bent thorax and the missing part of the back indicate that after getting into a pool of liquid resin the lizard did not drown in it completely, and as a result, the parts sticking out were not mummified (Szadziewski 1998).

The piece with the unique lizard inclusion was deposited at the Museum of the Earth, Polish Academy of Science, in Warsaw, Poland, which commissioned to the Warsaw Technical University its examination with absorption spectroscopy in infrared in Perkin Elmer apparatus. The resulting IRS CM468 is typical of succinite (Baltic amber) which excludes folgery - a very common accurance in regard to lizards in fossil resins (Kosmowska-Ceranowicz, Kulicka, Gierlowska 1997).
Studies at the Museum of the Earth, carried out by Róza Kulicka (with co-operation of Gabriela Gierlowska) enabled classification of the the specimen to the suborder Sauria, family Lacertidae - proper lizards. Further palaeontological studies are ongoing. The results of studies have been published in a Polish geological magazine Przeglad Geologiczny 45 (10) of October 1997 in the article "Nowe znalezisko jaszczurki w bursztynie baltyckim" ["New find of a lizard in the Baltic amber"].
amber inclusion

The term "new" discovery of a lizard, used in the publication in Przeglad Geologiczny refers to a similar specimen found in 1891 by R. Klebs and described in 1910 (Schriften d. Phisik.-Ökonom. Gessellschaft zu Königsberg in Pr. 1910). The authenticity of this specimen was questioned by later researchers (among others Schlee 1990). The argument is associated with a complicated history of this specimen. The argument's summary and conclusions can be found in recent literature (Ritzkowski 1999, Kosmowska-Ceranowicz and Kulicka).

The lizard from Gdansk is today a unique vertebrate specimen in the Baltic amber and hence of great interest to the scientific world.

The number of 200,000 specimens kept in museums and private collections of all the world, mentioned in Prof. Szadziewski's lecture, may at first glance seem large. However it evokes disappointment and concern after analysis of the possibilities to detect inclusions in the material processed each year, and all the more among the masses of raw material excavated each year in Baltic region.

Amber jewelry manufactures have probably detected, but not classified, at least as many specimens. A number of clearly visible inclusions are offered on amber market, as a rule without credible classification certificates.

The number of jewellery articles decorated with inclusion-bearing amber is already considerable and probably equals that kept in topical collections.

The annual, world-wide consumption of the Baltic amber by industry in the last three decades was on an average 800 tons. It increases steadily, but only slightly, since the increase in amber industry in Poland and Ukraine is balanced by a marked decrease in Russia.

The average granulation of the lumps (weight of 1 piece) used for industrial production is ca. 4 g. Thus 200 mln lumps are processed yearly.

lizard amber inclusion
The practice of our studio, due to the long-standing cooperation with the Museum of the Earth, aimed at careful detection of rare varieties and inclusions, reveals 2 to 5 specimens in each kilogram of raw material: mostly dipterans, ants and arachnids.
In the last quarter of 1997 we examined several lots of material from beaches and hydraulic mine in the delta of the Vistula River, of variety structure and granulation typical of that area. In randomly selected 10 kg portions,
after screening at the stage of material selection, grinding and polishing, we found from 35 to 52 animal inclusions (small insects). The granulation of this material was lower than the average from Sambia and Ukraine and was 2g i.e. 500 pieces per kilogram.

If we cautiously assume that only one in a hundred lumps contains an animal inclusion, the present-day world processing should yield 2,000,000 inclusions per year!

And how to estimate the several percent of material rejected during screening in the mines because of organic contamination? These wastes are destroyed in order to prevent workers from exchanging them for more valuable pieces. This was done in front of participants of the Russian-Polish-German conference of amber investigators in June 1996 in the screening department of the "Plazhovaya" mine in Jantarnyj (Sambia).

The possibilities outlined above are an argument in favour of such a modification of amber industry, especially in large companies, that would prevent the loss of valuable specimens of not only great scientific and collection value, but valuable as a tool of amber promotion on the world markets.

By Gabriela Gierlowska and Wieslaw Gierlowski, Gdansk, Poland.

  • Klebs R.: Über Bernsteineinschlüsse im allgemeinen und die Coleopteren meiner Bernsteinsammlung.
    Schriften der physikalisch-ökonomischen Gessellschaft zu Königsberg 51: 217-242.
  • Kosmowska-Ceranowicz B., Kulicka R.: Znaleziska rzadkich inkluzji zwierzęcych w bursztynie bałtyckim.
    Zeszyt postsympozjalny (1997).
  • Kosmowska-Ceranowicz B., Kulicka R., Gierłowska G. 1997: Nowe znalezisko jaszczurki w bursztynie bałtyckim. Przegląd Geologiczny 45, 10.
  • Kulicka R., Pielińska A. 1998: Plant and animal inclusions in the collection of the Museum of the Earth, PAS, in Warsaw. - this volume.
  • Ritzkowski S. 1998. Peculiar Baltic amber inclusions from the Königsberg collection, housed at the Institut und Museum für Geologie und Paläontologie at the Universität Göttingen.
  • Phot. Lizard in amber piece, right-side view. Photo Gabriela Gierłowska.

Read more about amber and amber catalog.
Check the article about green amber.

Check some books about amber:

The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World by Roberta Poinar, George O., Jr.Poinar

by Andrew Ross

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