Amber is a complex, organic polymer that offers unparalleled utility as a preservation medium, providing insights into past organisms and environments. However, under specific circumstances, this information can be compromised through alteration of the amber structure. Understanding the degradation of amber in the geosphere could improve prospecting techniques and maximise the quality and validity of chemical information from altered samples. This study analysed 114 amber samples retrieved from two new Eocene Australian deposits at Strahan, Tasmania and Anglesea, Victoria using a combination of attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared and solid-state 13C cross-polarised magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Results identified both Class Ib polylabdanoid and Class II cadinene-based amber. The presence of Class II amber in Australia suggests one of two possibilities: (1) a local Dipterocarpaceae source, the primary producer of Class II resins, despite the absence of this family from the Australian Eocene fossil record; or (2) a local, unidentified botanical source of cadinene-based amber. A third alternative, that Class II amber was transported to Australia from Southeast Asia via ocean currents, is rejected. Taphonomic analysis revealed four mechanisms of alteration prevalent in amber across the two study regions, with evidence of oxidation and metal carboxylate formation. Both the nature and extent of these alterations were found to vary significantly between classes I and II, suggesting that amber class may play a defining role in determining the chemical pathways by which amber degrades. Of note was the high proportion of amber that exhibited no significant chemical changes despite extensive visible alteration features, suggesting the integrity of palaeobiological and palaeoenvironmental information in these samples may be preserved.
- Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy
- Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy