Conservation vs investigation of amber: A risk assessment to determine whether amber is altered by micro-CT or confocal microscopy studies




Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) Cardiff




Bertini M, Ball AD, Mellish C, Burgio L, Shah B, Pretzel B, Blagoderov V, Goral T, Sykes D, Summerfield R, Steart DC, Garwood RJ, Spencer ART, Ross A, Penney D


Amber represents an invaluable “time capsule” preserving fossil inclusions in three-dimensions. As such, amber collections are subject to considerable demand by researchers wishing to examine the specimens trapped within. Many institutions, however, restrict the analysis of important inclusions using state-of-the-art imaging methodologies yielding high quality three-dimensional reconstructions, including micro-computed-tomography (µCT) and confocal microscopy. This is because it is presumed that both techniques have the potential to physio-chemically alter the amber matrix, but the short-term and/or long-term effects of these analytical methodologies are unknown. In this study, the chemical characterization of a number of samples of different types of amber was carried out using Raman and FTIR spectroscopy, prior to and after exposure to X-rays in a µCT scanner and to laser illumination using confocal microscopy. Additional exposure to synchrotron X-rays was carried out on a few sub-samples. Subject to the parameters specified in this study, neither µCT nor confocal microscopy appeared to alter the amber matrix chemically or visually.  Hard synchrotron X-rays, however, imparted a visible discoloration to irradiated amber and copal samples.




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