Atlas of Plants and Animals in Baltic Amber

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download


  • Book review

    Atlas of Plants and Animals in Baltic Amber, byWeitschat, W. and Wichard, W., 2002, Verlag Dr.Friedrich Pfeil, Munich, 256 pp., hardback.E 75.00, US$ 98.00. ISBN 3-931516-94-6

    Baltic amber has been valued by humans forthousands of years. By the middle of the BronzeAge it was traded with the inhabitants of the east-ern Mediterranean (Geerlings, 1996; Grimaldi,1996). Thus its inclusions were known to Greekand Roman scholars such as Aristotle, Martialand Tacitus (Grimaldi, 1996: 153, Grzonkowski,1996: 12). The modern study of the inclusionsdates back to the early 19th century, so one mightexpect that everything there is to be known aboutBaltic amber would have already been published.Judging from the publications on the Baltic inclu-sions which have appeared in the last decade, thisis far from being the case.In the preface to the present volume, the au-

    thors point out the need for constant re-evalua-tion in the light of expanding knowledge of bio-logical systematics and organismic ecology. Theythemselves consider it simply as an interim report,albeit a very attractive one, which is bound to besuperseded as new discoveries are made.The present book is based on the authors At-

    las der Panzen und Tiere im baltischen Bern-stein, which appeared in 1998. Like its predeces-sor the largest section of the book (184 pp.) isdevoted to a systematic description of the variousorganisms which have been found in the amber.The right-hand page has been reserved for one ormore coloured photographic plates with the ac-companying text and line drawings assigned tothe opposite left-hand page. While certain sectionshave simply been translated into English, changeshave been made where new evidence has becomeavailable in the past few years. Additional plateshave been added and, in some cases, the illustra-

    tions have been rearranged. Even when no alter-ations have been made to the plates, the identityof the organisms has been scrutinised and, if nec-essary, brought up to date. A few of the originalline drawings have been replaced or simply omit-ted. In the German edition there was unfortu-nately no indication of the actual size of the or-ganisms. In the present edition this omission hasbeen corrected. The magnication of the organ-isms is given throughout.In the introductory sections (pp. 9^38), the

    book deals with the genesis of the amber (succin-ite) and the equivocal interpretation of its chem-istry in terms of both botanical source and dia-genesis. Light and oxygen eventually destroyamber, as many museums have experienced, soin order to survive it must have been rapidlyburied. However, because of its low density, itoats well and can therefore be transported farfrom its source. The oldest deposits in which thesuccinite has been discovered are marine glauco-nitic sands. K^Ar age determination of these blueearths suggests these are Lutetian (Eocene) in ageand not Oligocene as was once thought. Variousphases of reworking followed, so the Bitterfeldamber in Germany may not be Miocene afterall. Certainly the plants and animals trapped asinclusions in the amber are very similar to thoseof the Baltic amber. Because of transport andreworking, the exact location of the Baltic AmberForest remains unknown. Certain animal inclu-sions suggest a mountainous region with fastowing streams, while other faunal elements pointin the direction of stagnant pools. Likewise, thereis a mix of temperate and subtropical elements.This palaeoecological dissonance could be ex-plained by a changing climate in the course ofthe Eocene. However, both temperate and sub-tropical species have sometimes been found inthe same piece of succinite, so it is more likely

    0034-6667 / 03 / $ ^ see front matter H 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.PII: S 0 0 3 4 - 6 6 6 7 ( 0 2 ) 0 0 2 2 5 - 7

    PALBO 2503 5-3-03

    Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 123 (2003) 347^348


    Available online at

  • that the autecology of some of the organisms haschanged in the past 50 million years. The book isconcluded with an extensive bibliography (23pages) with references as recent as 2002, and avery detailed list of scientic names (10 pp.).This book has a number of selling points. First

    of all, the excellent plates make it a very attractivevolume that even lay persons may wish to possess.At the same time, I cannot think of a better bookto awaken the interest of young persons in thestudy of palaeontology. It certainly oers an at-tractive alternative to all the dinosaur books cur-rently on the market. It should therefore be pur-chased by schools. On the other hand, the textand extensive references enable the more ad-vanced student to take matters further. Conse-

    quently, it ought to be on the shelves of universitylibraries as well.


    Geerlings, W., 1996. Die Tranen der Schwestern des Phaethon:Bernstein im Altertum. In: Ganzelewski, M., Slotta, R.(Eds.), Bernstein: Tranen der Gotter, Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, Bochum, pp. 395^400.

    Grimaldi, D.A., 1996. Amber: Window to the Past. Harry N.Abrams, New York, 216 pp.

    Grzonkowski, J., 1996. Bernstein. Ellert and Richter, Ham-burg, 133 pp.

    David K. FergusonWien, Austria

    PALBO 2503 5-3-03

    W. Weitschat, W. Wichard / Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 123 (2003) 347^348348

    Outline placeholderReferences