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Dominican Republic Amber
What is amber?

Amber, a fossil resin, is one of the few substances aside from diamond, jet, pearl and ivory that is considered a gem but is not a mineral. It was formed when sap emitted from trees dried up and hardened. The sap could have come out of the tree bark in a single drip, a large amount could have flowed out at one time or it could have come out several drips, one after another. The later method of multiple drops is known as shlaubs and generally has more fossil inclusions because the initial drops would catch the insects or animals and the subsequent drops would naturally cover them.

Nowhere in the world can it be found with the VARIETY OF COLORS same density as in the Dominican Republic. Actually, a large percentage of the amber used in commercial jewelry production comes from the Dominican Republic. Due to the year round warm climate, the amber found in the Dominican Republic also has a higher concentration of fossils and insects than anywhere else in the world. This makes it highly sought after by collectors and scientists alike.

There are three main amber mining sites in the Dominican Republic located in the northeast and southeast. They are the Cordillera Septentrional in the north (Santiago and Puerto Plata provinces, and Bayaguana and Sabena in the east. Amber, it has been determined, in the DR is primarily located at elevations that run over faults. Although it is theorized that these places had once been part of the same sedimentary basin but had been separated by movements along major faults, the amber was formed differently in the Septentrional range than in the hills of Bayaguana and Sabena. In the north, it was formed by caustic rocks or sandstone accumulating in deep water and in the east it is found in sand, clay or gravel.

History of amber

Diaries of Christopher Columbus contain the first documentation in the New World. It is said that when Columbus landed in Hispaniola, a Taino Indian offered him a pair of shoes decorated in amber in exchange for a necklace made of Baltic amber that Columbus had offered him. Archeological digs have uncovered Taino burial sites that have been filled with decorative amber. Over the course of time, the country’s rich amber deposits were practically abandoned as the value of gold took a priority.

It was not until the 1940s, when two artisans from the central town of Tamboril in the province of Santiago, Emilio and Manolo Perez began to work amber in a commercial form. They manufactured snuffers for cigars and sold them in Santiago. They found the amber along the Licey River.

In 1949, Italian geologist Renato Zoppis de Sena, appointed director of mining under the government of Trujillo, carried out research on amber to determine its age. During this period, the exploitation of amber resumed but only lasted a few months because the government was not willing to make appropriate funding available. There were also problems locating buyers in the domestic and foreign markets to purchase the extracted amber.

His successor at the Department of Mines (1951-55), Dominican naturalist Pompilio Brouwer continued to do research on amber and proposed the exploitation continue. Artisan Emilio Perez was brought to Santo Domingo to teach his craft at a school that was opened to train amber artisans. The government granted 30 scholarships. This marked the start of a true artisanal industry of amber.

The government would place the mines under the Centro Nacional de Artesania (Cenadarte), national handicraft center, which had the state concession to produce items such as jewelry.

Brouwer was fascinated with amber and became the country’s leading collector in the 50s and 60s, giving. He was the first to extend the small excavations that were carried out in those years to extract the resin. He is considered the first national who officially assigned an artisanal and industrial value to amber. He sustained that the amber in the Dominican Republic known as the amber of Santo Domingo is of better quality than that of Germany, because of its transparency and the diversity of hues and varieties of amber in the Dominican Republic that represent the varieties of the mineral found in other areas of the world. Brower back then identified the wide range of colors and levels of transparency of Dominican amber. These range from transparent pieces, to pinks, yellows, reds, purples, blue tones, even black-colored amber.

The exploitation of amber would be subsequently organized commercially with the founding of the Compania de Ambar Dominicano under the technical direction of Dr. Brouwer himself. This company carried out amber extraction in the faults of Las Auyamas, between Puerto Plata and Santiago provinces. In 1963, vendors began to sell the crafts to tourists that came aboard cruisers that docked in Puerto Plata. The first store opened in the port area, and in the market several stores converted from selling food produce to selling amber crafts.

In 1966, they extracted about 4,000 lbs. amber per month. This exploration lasted only a year and a half, though, when the government awarded the concession to the newly formed Cooperativa de Industrias Artesanales (Coindarte). After that the commercial exploitation of the amber deposits was discontinued and extraction continued only in small quantities.

Another Italian was to give amber a major boost. In 1970, a pharmacist from Italy by the name of Didi Costa came to Puerto Plata for the first time for a summer vacation with her husband Aldo and their two sons. They were charmed by the north coast and decided to stay. Aldo Costa had worked in tourism in Italy and he would share his knowledge and become one of that tourism industry pioneers in the Dominican Republic. During these initial years, Didi Costa discovered amber, recognized its scientific value and began collecting pieces. At that time, the amber pieces had very little value for Dominicans except to burn them to keep mosquitoes away.

Before too long, the Hotel Montemar that her husband Aldo was managing opened a gift shop and Didi volunteered to run it. She also began to purchase small amounts of amber brought to her from the mine. She set aside pieces that she considered exceptional and saved them. She was mesmerized by the history trapped inside the pieces of amber and began to buy them by the bag from men who came down from the mine. During that time, she also became acquainted with German and American researchers who were interested in the amber.

In 1982, she decided to open the Amber Museum in a mansion at Villa Bentz. The Costas got help with the museum from Brandt Ghepart. He had spent 15 years at the Museum of Natural History in Cleveland, Ohio directly working with their amber collection. Between them, they turned the Amber Museum into a reality. Here is a link to its website Amber Museum
 
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