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Amazing Amber

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Amazing Amber (10 May - 8 September 2013)

Everybody loves a good fossil. There's something spine-tingling about seeing or handling the remains of an animal that walked the earth hundreds of million years ago.The only drawback is that fossils leave much to the imagination. You have to mentally flesh out the bones, or extrapolate a living animal from a 2D smudge on a rock.

Amber is different; it's fossilised tree resin. Resins are translucent liquids secreted by certain trees onto their surface. Over millions of years, a fraction of this substance hardens and fossilizes to become amber, capturing a moment in time and preserving it for millions of years. Any objects trapped inside can be extremely well preserved, often better than other types of fossils, with exquisite detail still visible. Amber is, quite literally, a window into the deep past. Insects trapped in amber fire the imagination, as anyone who's seen Jurassic Park will agree. While you can't bring extinct animals back to life, you can learn a lot about ancient life from amber fossils.

The Amazing Amber exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland brings together amber pieces from the museum's own collection for the first time. You'll learn how life is preserved in these amazing fossils and how scientists are using it to peer deep into the past and make extraordinary discoveries. (The oldest amber dates back 320 million years, about 90 million years before dinosaurs appeared.)

Extinct wasp in Burmese amber. (Photo: Natnioal Museums Scotland)  

It's not all about the science, though. Humans have been fascinated by amber for millenia. To some it was a material to be used in decorative objects; to others it had mystical powers to be harnessed in charms and amulets. The exhibition will explore humanity's use of amber from Stone Age jewellery to the present day.

Of course, if you still need your dinosaur fix after this exhibition, snap up some tickets for the RBS Museum Lates: Dino Night event on 17 May. The bands, entertainment and themed dinosaur activities would be a great way to follow up the Amazing Amber exhibition. You'd better be quick, though: unlike amber, these tickets won't be around for long.

Amazing Amber - National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF.