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Amber Waves of Misidentification

Figure 1: Petrified wood from the Chehalis River, with a bit of opal.

This is the beginning of the most exciting non-adventure related post to date! I am stoked to report my shiny news from the mysterious world of petrified wood! Sometimes, there's amber in it. Catch: Almost never.

I don't mean, "It's uncommon," I mean according to the online resources it's only ever been found half a dozen times worldwide [The Fossil]. I mean, like five cases. Five. Out of millions and tens of millions of gorgeous fossilized tree bits! Unearthed by weathering forces, these ancient forests, a thousand tons of ancient sap and flesh, almost never coincide with their own fossilized resin. Insane. Especially because, however fleetingly, I thought I had one of them [Figure 1]. Recently, I trekked an hour south of my utopic new home, Tacoma, to the gravelly banks of the Chehalis River. I carried back with me a delightful variety of agate chips and a small handful of tasty petrified woods [Figure 2]. One lovely piece of woodiness I bagged (or boxed, as my chosen receptacle has been upgraded from a 5 gal. bucket to a metal tool box) came with the classic chew signs of hungry dinosaur bugs!

Figure 2: Carnelian agate chip, photographed as found, from the Chehalis River in southwestern Washington.

By now, I am sure you all know how exciting this is for me. In Big Sexy Rocks (Part I), I discuss the insect damage afflicted upon sample A2, and my totally appropriate dream of finding a little woody with bug holes of my own. AND NOW SATISFACTION IS MINE! So, as you might expect, I spent the weeks after this expedition sorting and tumbling the agates & obsessing over this bit 'o honey from the banks of the Chehalis. This piece of partially-chewed fossil was already enough to engross my attention, but then an itty bitty speck of transparency on it caught my eye. You can see what I mean in Figure 1.

Now, had I not also seen a fine seam of the same light-passable mineral contiguous with this speck, I may not have erupted into my usual state of euphoric discovery. Alas, I did see this glassy line in the linear grains of my petrified love, and my prefrontal cortex did send me into a researching spiral. "This is amber! It has to be! Look, right there is the vascular tissue where the life-blood of this sacred sentinel of the forest leaked out and then became a separate fossil entity. The glorious, the splendid, her Great and Terrible Eminence, Amber!"

Overwhelming passion for life is a good problem to have.

Except that it wasn't amber. Honestly, thinking this was possible after even ten minutes of mineral descriptions is something of an embarrassment to my years of fervent Google searching- excuse me, I mean "researching."

Two days later, I am left cradling this woody delight in the afternoon sun camped in the Black Kettle, quietly murmuring. The subject of this (possibly) uncomfortable scene was plastered on my laptop screen in half a dozen open internet browsers: "That is not amber. You are a foolish dreamer. Go get me another dirty Chai latte and make it a double, foolish human!" I guess my Dell laptop's anthropomorphism is a cruel-but-fair reflection of my bruised ego. Considering that this machine got me through grad school, my surprise is colored in a vibrant beige. In any case, this amended discovery was devastating. Instead of a blessed addition to my mineralogical love life, the 'amber' was just common opal. Opal, as we know, is a silicate that forms by filling cavities and cracks in its mineral or stone matrix [See earlier post where I already cited this]. When the petrified wood begins to weather, or breaks down as a result of whatever-force-of-nature, it cracks along the naturally straight faults of it's former vascular tissue. This creates parallel spaces where opal can form as a secondary mineral on the petrified wood [The Fossil]. So,I had petrified wood with an opal-filled crease instead of wood with a vein of amber. It wasn't the the Earth-shattering find I soaked in for two days, but it still commands the sex appeal of a Halle Berry/ Cillian Murphy elf-child, and thus deserves a seat at the My Morning Mile table.

Figure 3: Amber jewelry at Jerry's Rock and Gem.

According to The Fossil Forum, The Virtual Petrified Wood Museum, and Dirty Rockhounds*, amber is something found in coal seams and not congruent with my favorite lady, petrified wood. Among the congenial exchanges on these forums was some insight into the Whys and How's of amber:

"Tree resin breaks down when exposed to drying and oxidation within just a few thousand years. It is not surprising then that amber deposits do not represent forest floor environments. Amber deposits usually represent marine environments. Amber deposits form when resins produced in forests are transported by water to oc