Hundreds of Dino-Era Animals in Amber Revealed by X-Ray

April 4, 2008

A hidden trove of fossilized treasures in cloudy ancient tree sap have been brought to light with a new form of "x ray vision," scientists announced recently.

Fossilized tree sap, or amber, is usually transparent but can become murky due to contamination by dirt and other debris.

The dirtiest type, called opaque amber, resembles rocks and is a challenge for paleontologists who want to see organisms trapped inside.

That is changing with synchrotron imaging, which uses high-energy x-rays generated by accelerated electrons to examine hidden fossils.

"Researchers have tried to study this kind of amber for many years with little or no success," study co-author Paul Tafforeau, a paleontologist at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France, said in a statement.

In a new study, scientists used the technique to reveal hundreds of organisms—mostly insect—entombed in opaque amber since the time of the dinosaurs.

(Related news: "Dino-Era Feathers Found Encased in Amber" [March 11, 2008].)

The work will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Microscopy and Microanalysis.

Virtual Extraction

The researchers imaged 640 pieces of Cretaceous-period amber from the Charentes region of southwestern France.

First the team had to pinpoint the locations of the encased fossils.

When synchrotron x-ray beams penetrate an object, different materials can modify their wavelength shapes in various ways.

Continued on Next Page >>


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