Non-destructive comparative evaluation of fossil amber using terahertz time-domain spectroscopy

Phillip Barden, Christine E. Sosiak, Jonpierre Grajales, John Hawkins, Louis Rizzo, Alexander Clark, Samuel Gatley, Ian Gatley, John Federici

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Fossilized plant resins, or ambers, offer a unique paleontological window into the history of life. A natural polymer, amber can preserve aspects of ancient environments, including whole organisms, for tens or even hundreds of millions of years. While most amber research involves imaging with visual light, other spectra are increasingly used to characterize both organismal inclusions as well as amber matrix. Terahertz (THz) radiation, which occupies the electromagnetic band between microwave and infrared light wavelengths, is non-ionizing and frequently used in polymer spectroscopy. Here, we evaluate the utility of amber terahertz spectroscopy in a comparative setting for the first time by analyzing the terahertz optical properties of samples from 10 fossil deposits ranging in age from the Miocene to the Early Cretaceous. We recover no clear relationships between amber age or botanical source and terahertz permittivity; however, we do find apparent deposit-specific permittivity among transparent amber samples. By comparing the suitability of multiple permittivity models across sample data we find that models with a distribution of dielectric relaxation times best describe the spectral permittivity of amber. We also demonstrate a process for imaging amber inclusions using terahertz transmission and find that terahertz spectroscopy can be used to identify some synthetic amber forgeries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0262983
JournalPloS one
Issue number3 March
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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