The Museum of Decorative Art in Moscow is presenting a display of intricate and ancient amber artwork and artifacts.
The exhibit includes both natural pieces and pieces worked by humans.
The most outstanding artifact is a 75 million-year-old piece of amber imprinted with a dinosaur’s claw.
Amber is the naturally occurring resin of prehistoric trees which has oozed out and dried to a hard substance resembling plastic.
Almost all of the amber on display comes from the age of the dinosaurs and most of it was collected in Russia’s Kaliningrad province. That region is the source of about 95 percent of the world’s amber deposits.
Kaliningrad is a pocket of Russian territory in between Lithuania and Poland, on the Baltic Sea. The area used to be covered in rainforest.
“At some point a glacier destroyed the entire forest,” explains exhibit curator Jan Sergeantov.
“When the glacier melted, a puddle was formed, which is now called the Baltic Sea.”
Amber is probably one of the first substances human beings used to make jewelry and decorations, as it was readily available and easier to work than stone.
“Anybody could afford it, because amber was the most popular,” Jan Sergeantov said.
“It was here long before the appearance of metal, gold, silver, or any precious stones.”
The exhibit contains an amber button more than 6,000 years old.
Young visitors to the exhibit aren’t always quite clear on what they are seeing.
“It looks like some pebbles,” said one. “The teeth of some exotic fish,” countered another.
Raw amber has to be worked to get that fine, glasslike luster. Usually, 80 percent of the outer surface has to be scraped off to get to the clear amber within.
The outer surface, while hardening will collect salt particles, bits of sand, and air bubbles. Once removed, what is left looks like polished amber.
The very best and most exquisite pieces of crafted amber can cost over half a million dollars. But be on the lookout for fakes.
There are ways to determine whether what you have is genuine, prehistoric amber.
“If we set it on fire, then amber will burn,” said Jan Seargentov.
“The smell will give you a sense of the smell of resin, the smell of wood, the natural forest.”
The exhibit runs until November.
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