A comparison of Baltic Sea region amber with amber from Asia could be significant - rather than being found just in Mecklenburg, Poland or Belarus, European species have been found almost 10,000 kilometers away in Fushun, even though Europe and Asia were divided by the Strait of Turgay, a wide arm of the ocean, 50 million years ago.  

The pieces from the Baltic region are younger than the ones from Fushun and the assumption has been that this body of saltwater prevented species migrations between the continents.  



Golden coffin: An insect is trapped in Fushun amber. Credit:
(c) Bo Wang / Universität Bonn


"Amazingly often, we are finding – in addition to Asian forms – the same insect species in Fushun amber that we found in Baltic amber," says Bonn paleontologist Professor Dr. Jes Rust. "Consequently, the great similarity of the included insects has been a great surprise to us. We don't know yet how that fits together." 


A neglected treasure



In the vicinity of the Northeast Chinese city of Fushun, there are large lignite deposits. Humans have been digging up this fuel from the ground for more than a century already. And in doing so, they also kept finding pieces of amber. Traditionally, the locals made jewelry from it. Particularly beautiful finds with interesting inclusions are highly sought after among collectors.

Until now, the inclusions had not been studied systematically. It was Dr. Bo Wang who finally recognized the scientific potential of Fushun amber. Wang, who is currently at the Bonn University on a research grant from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, began systematically cataloging the finds. An analysis is currently underway in collaboration with paleontologists from Europe and the USA. 

And it is beginning to become clear how rich this deposit is. So far, the researchers have been able to identify arachnids and insects from more than 80 families–a snapshot of the past that provides a detailed view of what tiny animals populated East Asia 53 million years ago.

In addition, the Fushun deposit is filling in one of the blank spots on the map. With the exception of India, it constitutes the only significant site where amber has been found in Asia. Rust regrets that the open pit mining in Fushun will soon stop. "But despite that, the detailed analysis of the finds will probably keep us busy for quite some time."



Citation: Bo Wang, Jes Rust, Michael S. Engel, Jacek Szwedo, Suryendu Dutta, André Nel, Yong Fan, Fanwei Meng, Gongle Shi, Edmund A. Jarzembowski, Torsten Wappler, Frauke Stebner, Yan Fang, Limi Mao, Daran Zheng and Haichun Zhang; A Diverse Paleobiota in Early Eocene Fushun Amber from China; Current Biology 24 (2014); DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2014.05.048. Source: University of Bonn