Amber: The Organic Gemstone

Acc Chem Res. 2002 Aug;35(8):628-36. doi: 10.1021/ar0001970.


Resins are produced by woody plants on a worldwide basis. We have found several distinct classes of modern diterpenoid resins based phenomenologically on the solid-state (13)C NMR spectra of the bulk material. Resin fossilizes over millions of years into a robust material sometimes called amber. We have characterized several hundred samples of fossil resin by solid-state (13)C NMR spectroscopy. We can relate one globe-spanning group of fossil resins to the modern genus Agathis, based on spectral evolution over time. A second large group has not been related with certainty to specific modern plants. Fossil resins from Europe fall into two categories, the famous Baltic ambers and another that resembles the Agathis group. Fossil resins from the Americas and Africa are closely related to the modern genus Hymenaea. Based on spectral distinctions, fossil resin found in an archaeological context sometimes can be assigned to a specific geographical origin on the basis of its (13)C NMR spectrum.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amber / analysis*
  • Fossils*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Resins, Plant / analysis


  • Amber
  • Resins, Plant