Tips 19 Oct 2019

Amber, succinite or jantar?

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The names of precious and semi-precious stones have different origins, often they result from the characteristics features of a given stone. Terminological complexities are also associated with our national treasure - Baltic amber.


The name succinite comes from the Latin word succinum meaning juice [1]. The first mention of this name appeared in the work of Pliny the Elder written in the first century BC. "Natural History." "Our ancestors also believed that amber is a juice (from Latin sucus) of wood, calling it succinum for this reason" [2]. In ancient Greece, amber was called an electron - a "stone that attracts", as well as a stone "from the sun". The term jantar has Finno-Ugric roots and is similar to the Lithuanian gintaras (amulet). The Phoenicians, ancient inhabitants of the eastern-southern part of the Mediterranean coast, called succinite jainitar, which means sea resin[3].

The Polish name "bursztyn" comes from the German word Bernstein (which meant a burning stone), because after being set on fire it burns with a bright flame, intensely kicking and emitting a pleasant resinous smell [3]. Depending on the place of extraction, succinite is commonly called: Baltic amber (Poland, Russia, Lithuania), Saxon amber or Bitterfeld amber (Bitterfeld, Germany) as well as Ukrainian amber [1]. All the resins mentioned above have a common genesis, often combined with one parent tree, properties and chemistry. These factors depend on environmental conditions during formation, sedimentation, deposition, diagenesis and transport of resin lumps. When mining the main mineral in succinite mines, the accompanying minerals: gedanite, glessite, gedano-succinite are found. these resins differ from succinite by the features listed above [1].

Complexity of terminology is also associated with the word "amber". In the gemological nomenclature, it has been accepted that the name is reserved for succinite, because it is associated with the origin of amber, the area of occurrence (the Baltic Sea basin) and chemistry. Other fossil resins that have no common past or chemical composition with succinite are also incorrectly called amber on the gemstone market, e.g. fossil resin from Borneo, Mexico or the Dominican Republic. It is often used to even identify subfossil resins, e.g. African amber, which is in fact a copal from Tanzania or Congo [4].

In summary - each of the above names is correct. We can use the terms bursztyn, jantar, amber or succinite interchangeably. The only thing to be avoided is to call "amber" resins from outside the Baltic Sea region.

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