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
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
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