Prized jewellery and prehistory: Amazing Amber comes to the National Museum of Scotland

By Jenni Davidson | 16 May 2013

Preview: Amazing Amber, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, until September 8 2013

A photograph of a piece of amber with an insect in it
Gnat in Baltic Amber© National Museums Scotland
Amber sits on the border between science and art. Highly valued in many cultures as a decorative material, it is also a fascinating substance that can help shed light on the earth’s past.

In the 1993 film Jurassic Park, the DNA that was used to bring back dinosaurs was taken from a mosquito preserved in amber and twenty years on, to celebrate the anniversary of the film, the National Museum of Scotland has put together the UK’s biggest exhibition of amber.

A photograph of a penannular brooch
The Westness brooch. Gilded silver with insets of amber and red glass and panels of gold filigree.  Found in a Viking grave at Westness, Orkney.© National Museums Scotland
Amber is formed from fossilised tree resin and the exhibition shows how it was made, how it has been used and what it can tell scientists about the history of the earth.

Dr Andrew Ross, Principal Curator of Palaeobiology at National Museums Scotland, said: “Amber has fascinated mankind for thousands of years, both with its beauty and the three dimensional life forms inside many of the pieces”.

Among the items on display are the Westness brooch, amber-handled cutlery reputedly used by Sir Walter Scott, 17th century Italian alterpieces and ancient examples of amber used to ward off evil spirits.

Over 130 of the exhibits contain trapped insects such as flies, beetles and a spider’s web. There is even a 100 million year-old midge that dates from the time of the dinosaurs.

Jurassic Park sparked an interest in amber and inspired new scientific research into the substance, so in honour of the anniversary the exhibition also includes the cane with the replica mosquito in amber that was used by Richard Attenborough in the film.

  • Open daily, 10am-5pm. Admission free.
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