Name: Christine Lipkin
Location: Dominican Republic
Age: Oligocene to Miocene
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Taphonomy of Dominican Amber


Anolis lizard skull in Dominican amber. Click image to view the detailed preservation of the skin. Photo courtesy of Michael J. Polcyn.

Amber is fossilized tree resin. Trees produce resin to protect themselves from disease and insect infestation. Resin is produced when the bark of a tree is cracked opened after an attack by wood-boring beetles or a limb is broken off the tree. Once the tree produces resin, it slowly pours out and drips down the bark, trapping most objects in its path. The resin eventually hardens and entombs the organism.

Fossil resin's molecular make-up is carbon and hydrogen atoms that readily form hexagonal rings. The process of molecular bonding between the rings increases over time and is called polymerization. Polymerization is process that causes the resin to become hard. Wet sediments, such as clay and sand, helped facilitate the hardening process.

The compounds found in amber account for the exceptional preservation of the fossil inclusions. However, the exact reason for the three-dimensional characteristic of some Dominican amber is still unknown. The chemical composition of resin acted as a desiccant and antibiotic, which caused the organisms inside the amber to dehydrate without shrinking. Characteristics of amber that led to the taphonomic process of inclusions were rapid dehydration, protection from water, and protection from microbial and fungal decay. The fossils from Dominican amber were so exceptionally preserved that DNA could be extracted (Stankiewicz et al., 1998).


Section author: Christine Lipkin
Last updated: 28/11/02

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This section is part of a Fossil Lagersttten web site which has been built up as a result of the efforts of the 2002-3 MSc Palaeobiology class in the Department of Earth Sciences at University of Bristol, as part of a course in Scientific Communication.


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