Nova (1974–…): Season 33, Episode 5 - Jewel of the Earth - full transcript

This program examines and the many subtle secrets that scientists have teased out of insects trapped in amber.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -

Its jewel-like beauty has
held humans spellbound

for thousands of years.

But inside, an even
greater treasure glows.

It's hard to imagine a more
perfect time capsule than this.

This little bee has
been trapped in there

for literally millions of years.

Suspended in time, these
tiny prisoners have tales to tell...

of a world that belonged
to the dinosaurs,

of enemies long extinct,

of super-continents
that no longer exist.

Now scientists can peer
deeper into these time machines

than they ever did before,

opening the door
to the unthinkable...

Bringing dinosaurs back to life.

I was astounded
at the possibility

of DNA being preserved.

Every once in a
while in your life,

you witness something that's
just too spectacular for words,

and this was one of the times.

Host David Attenborough
takes you on a quest for amber...

"Jewel of the Earth,"
right now on NOVA.

Captioning sponsored by GOOGLE,




There is a substance so
strange and so beautiful

that whenever
people encountered it,

they thought they'd
found something magical.

And its magic is real,

because this material
has traveled through time,

bringing with it passengers
from the distant past

that have wonderful
tales to tell.

This extraordinary
substance has fascinated me

since I first held a piece...

This piece... when I was 12.

My first piece of amber arrived
in a very unexpected way.

In 1938, during the buildup
to the Second World War,

my parents helped
some of the many children

fleeing from Germany.

They had left their
families behind

and were allowed to bring
almost nothing with them.

I remember one
girl in particular.

Her name was Marianne.

She was 12... About
the same age that I was...

And she came from a
city on the Baltic coast

where her father was a doctor.

He had given her one
small but precious thing

as a sign of his thanks

to whoever it was who was
going to look after his daughter.

And this is it.

It felt surprisingly warm
and light in my hand,

but what made me fall
in love with amber was

what I discovered inside it.

I found something miraculous.

There were insects
preserved in astonishing detail.

I burned with questions:

What sort of world
were they from?

They must have lived a
long time ago, but how long?

Years later, my brother
Richard would play a scientist

in a movie which made
amber famous the world over.

Welcome... to Jurassic Park.

Richard's character extracted
DNA from dinosaurs' blood

trapped in amber, and with it
brought dinosaurs back to life.

Could that ever be done?

How'd you do this?

I'll show you.

I started my journey with
the amber time machine

by taking Marianne's gift
back to where it came from...

To the shores of the Baltic Sea.

The amber comes
from rocks on the seabed

some distance
out from the coast,

but people don't find it until
it washes up on the shore.

Little bits like this
are quite common.

Sometimes, if you are lucky,
particularly after a storm,

you can find bigger bits.

Some even have barnacles
still attached to them.

People have been collecting
such bits for thousands of years,

but had no idea how
amber originated.

Some said it was
solidified sunshine;

some, that it was
the tears of the gods.

And then around the year 77 AD,

a great Roman
naturalist, Pliny the Elder,

conducted a simple experiment.

He did this.

The smell...
unmistakable... Pine resin.

Several types of plants,
among them conifers,

seal any wound inflicted
by storms or insect attack

by producing a sticky resin,
which oozes out from them.

And because it continues

to gently flow around
whatever it traps,

it can preserve creatures
in the finest detail.

As the resin hardens
around its captives,

they become suspended in time.

Of course, many creatures
are fossilized in rock,

like this small, flat
fish, for example.

It's a kind of ray.

It was squashed, its
soft parts decayed,

even its little spines
turned into rock.

But amber preserves creatures
in a quite different fashion.

When this little bee
touched this drop of resin,

she was caught by its stickiness

and she was instantly
and perfectly preserved

in three dimensions.

These eyes saw a
world which existed

long before mankind evolved.

She scented flowers

before the first human
being ever smelled one.

And I can even tell that she
was working hard when she died

by the bundles of
cargo on her hind legs.

It's hard to imagine a more
perfect time capsule than this.

This little bee has
been trapped in there

for literally millions of years.

Amber's ability to
travel through time

can take us back into
more recent history...

our history.

Stonehenge is one of the
earliest manmade structures

in the world.

These stones have
been standing here

for something like three
and a half thousand years,

and we know that even then,

the people who erected
them treasured amber.

But they weren't the first.

It was considered to be precious
way back in the Stone Age.

And this may be why.

When you scrape
its rough surface...

With a flint blade, perhaps...

You quickly reveal the
wonderful golden color inside.

It's quite magical.

Stone Age people also
carved bone and stone

in order to make tools,
but amber was different...

It seemed to have
had no practical use,

so they must have valued
it for some other reason.

The carvings they made around
10,000 years ago give us an idea

of how they viewed the world

and, in particular, which
animals mattered most to them.

Imagine the value of
amber to a Stone Age hunter

who believed that
capturing an animal's spirit

by carving it in amber

made the animal
itself easier to hunt.

The people who built the
great stone circle at Stonehenge

lived in the Bronze Age,
several thousand years later,

but they, too, treasured amber.

None but the wealthiest of
them could afford a material

as rare as this.

Once there were a thousand
beads in this necklace.

Over 3,000 years, their surfaces
have become opaque and crumbly.

But when they were new and
freshly polished and glowing,

it must have been a
wondrous piece of jewelry.

One woman's grave contained
a rather more mysterious object...

A disc of amber, now browned
with age, encircled by gold.

It was certainly a remarkable
piece of personal decoration,

but maybe it had a
rather deeper significance.

The sun is central to our
understanding of Stonehenge.

The monument may have
been used as a solar calendar

and it may be that its
builders treasured amber

because it captured the
warmth and the light of the sun.

It may or may not have
been considered magical

in prehistoric Britain,

but it was most certainly
rare, for it came from far away.

This is the Baltic city
of Gdansk, in Poland.

The jewelry worn by the
people of Stonehenge...

And buried with them...
Came from around here.

It's evidence

of one of the world's first
long-distance trade routes.

But what brought
the big boom in amber

was the rise of Imperial Rome.

The Romans
bought it for prestige.

Amber carvings cost
more than the best slaves,

and even the emperor
Nero treasured it.

He decorated his
amphitheaters with tons of it

to show how unbelievably
wealthy he was.

So, Baltic amber can take
us back at least 10,000 years

into our own past.

But it reaches back
much further than that.

To find out how far,

I went to one of the
Gdansk workshops

where amber jewelry is made

to meet Elzbieta Sontag.

Very thin.

It's most probably
with inclusion inside.

Elzbieta is a biologist
who comes here to look

for inclusions... animals and
plants trapped in the amber.

It takes a practiced eye

to search through as
much raw amber as this,

and I was delighted to get
a lesson from the expert.

How do I start?

I mean, there are
a million pieces...

All right, a thousand pieces.

What... is there a particular
color I should look for?

Sometimes color, yes,

because white
and, uh... and milky

is without inclusion.

Are they good?


That's bad. Not
good... it's bad.

So I'm not interested in that.

I avoid it, that kind of pieces.

So what do I...

I am looking for transparent.

Would that one be any good?

Yes, I think yes.

We can split it.


Oh, yes.


And maybe something is inside.

How many...
pieces do you look at

before you find something?

Oh, about... 20.



Not good; shape is not good.

Why is it the wrong shape?


Twelve. Next one.




There's a lot of bubbles








Yes, I think so. 16.

It's a mosquito.

No mosquito; midges.

Oh, but this is beautiful.

looks as though it took off from its twig

only yesterday.

But amazingly, it has
been frozen in flight

for around 40 million years.

So what about the
creatures in my piece?

What exactly were they?

I could see them clearly,

for Elzbieta's microscope
had a projection screen.

Oh, well, that's an old friend,

because it's quite big
it's near the surface

and I've known
it for a long time.

So it's a fly, but
what kind of a fly?

It's a long-legged fly.

A long-legged fly?


And what part of the
forest do they live?

Low on the forest;
sometimes sit on the bark.

So the likelihood
is, then, that this fly,

and therefore this piece of
amber, this gum, this resin

was low down on the tree.

Yes, low down on the floor

Okay, what else is there?

With her powerful microscope,
Elzbieta was exploring

far deeper into my amber
than I had been able to do.

And there she found
another fly, a fungus gnat.

It must have died
searching for rotten wood,

for that is where
it lays its eggs.

Then Elzbieta found an aphid...

and, right above it, an ant.

Perhaps they had fallen together

from a leaf where
they were feeding.

I think that is a
fantastic picture,

I... it's deep in
the amber, I know,

because I've never
seen it like this before.

But the last animal she
found was the most surprising.

Ah... what a monster.

What is it?

There is a mite.

A mite?


A very small monster.


That's tiny though, isn't it?

How big is that?

About one half a millimeter.

Half a millimeter.

I've never seen it before

So we've got a whole community,

and we know that they all
lived together, because...

because they all died together,

in my one piece of amber,

and that alone has given
us a whole rounded picture

of a tiny little ecosystem

at the bottom of a tree
40 million years ago.



Thank you very much.

It had taken me
more than 60 years

to find and identify all the
animals inside my amber,

and seeing them together
had given me something more...

A glimpse of their world.

By comparing many amber
animals to modern forms,

scientists like
Elzbieta are sure

that the forest they inhabited
was a temperate one.

But how broad a picture

can these time
travelers give us?

Could it encompass
a whole forest

or even a whole continent?

Well, in the 1960s, on a
Caribbean mountainside,

science discovered a
new source of amber

which seemed perfectly suited
to answer those questions.

I had a chance to
visit it 15 years ago.

I hoped that,
for the first time,

I myself might
collect some amber.

Here in the Dominican
Republic, amber is mined,

and by dating the
mud-stones that contain it,

we can tell that it is
about 20 million years old,

rather younger
than Baltic amber.

¿Está... ámbar allí?



¿Fósiles, eh?

Picking a piece of amber

from the mud-stones in
which it has lain for so long

was hugely exciting.

I brought a small collection
back home with me.

So what kind of forest
did this amber come from?

Well, thanks to some
remarkable detective work,

we can answer that
question in amazing detail.

In this piece, there's a leaf

from the plants that
produced the amber.

And this is what those
plants looked like.

They were giant bean trees.

But what matters most about
them is not what they looked like,

but where they grew...

They were tropical.

Scientists had long imagined

that the ancient
tropical forests

contained a vast
diversity of life.

But very few fossilized
traces had ever been found,

until they discovered these.

Dominican amber preserves

such a huge variety
of animals and plants,

with such perfection,

that it inspired two scientists,
George and Roberta Poinar,

to try something

that had previously
been thought impossible.

In the same way that Elzbieta
reconstructed the world

around a single Baltic tree,

they started to use
these tiny fossils

to bring a whole
tropical forest back to life.

I had found a piece
which contained a little bee.

She must have been
familiar with many of the plants

in that forest, indeed,
she depended on them.

So based on the
Poinars' findings...

and with a little
bit of amber magic,

we can follow her back home.

This tiny flower shows

that the amber trees
were not the only giants

reaching up into
the forest canopy.

It belonged to a sebo,

whose great trunk is
supported by wide buttress roots.

But the commonest flowers of
all came from a different tree...

The nazareno.

It seems likely that these trees
dominated the forest canopy.

When one of these giants fell,

it would have
opened up a light gap

which other faster-growing
plants could fill,

plants like palms.

And here are their flowers,
confirming that palms

were another key
element of that forest.

So we have built up a picture

of what part of
the forest was like,

and even identified
some of the flowers

which might have tempted my bee.

But I don't think she
died collecting nectar.

She was searching the
forest for something else.

Remember those
bundles on her back legs?

They are clues to
what she was after.

She was collecting resin...

And not just any resin,

but resin from the
amber trees themselves...

And that was a very
dangerous thing to do.

She was a stingless bee,
very skilled at handling resin.

Even so,

there was a real chance
that while collecting it,

a bee might get stuck.

Stingless bees are among
the most common animals

trapped in Dominican amber.

Why did they take the risk?

Resin is very
valuable to these bees.

Mixed with plant
waxes and fibers,

it makes a strong
building material

for their nests.

But it also brings
another benefit.

It contains antibiotics

which disinfect the wounds
in the bark of the trees

from which it oozes.

By bringing it
here into the nest,

the bees protect
their developing young

from infection.

So now we know exactly
what this little bee was doing

in that forest 20
million years ago.

This piece of amber has
not only trapped her body,

it's also caught her behavior.

And we know from other
pieces of amber, too,

that she had enemies.

This is an assassin bug

It hunts stingless bees,
and their addiction to resin

makes it easy
for it to find them.

The bug can't
move swiftly enough

to snatch a bee from midair

But it's strong enough
to pull off strands of resin.

With these sticky gloves,

it can hold on to any
bee which touches them.

It's using resin to set a trap.

Now the assassin stabs
its dagger-like mouthparts

into a weak point
behind the bee's head,

and injects its saliva,
paralyzing the bee.

As she dies, she
releases a pheromone,

a scent calling for help

which normally rallies other
bees to defend the nest,

and that entices them
into the assassin's reach.

But one assassin lost its
grip, and now lies in amber,

together with its victim.

Once small animals like
this were in the resin's grip,

they were as doomed
as flies on flypaper.

But even so, amber
sometimes contains animals

that normally would
never go near it.

How can George Poinar
explain his next discovery?

It was an amber tadpole.

It couldn't have

come into contact
with resin underwater.

Yet when he looked further,
he found other pond animals...

A young marsh beetle;
even a diving beetle.

The challenge was to explain
how they had found their way

into a flow of resin
on the trunk of a tree.

This is a poison-dart frog.

She's only half the
size of your thumb,

and, remarkably, she is
carrying a tadpole on her back.

She moves in a very
determined and purposeful way,

and starts to climb a tree.

These are what she is looking
for: plants that collect water,

called tank bromeliads.

No one has yet found a
piece of a bromeliad in amber,

but we know they were there,

because there are
amber damselflies of a kind

which today lays its eggs

between the tightly packed
leaves of bromeliads.

She's reached a branch.

Her tadpole will
soon have a nursery.

She lowers her rear end
into the bromeliad's pond.

Other animals also
lived in these tiny ponds.

Up here they may have
been safe from predators,

but not, it seems, from resin.

So bromeliads held tiny complete
worlds high up above the ground,

but even so, they probably
didn't contain enough food

to sustain a
fast-growing tadpole.

What, then, did it eat?

Amazingly, the piece of
amber that held the tadpole

also contained the answer.

Poison-dart frogs are
very attentive parents.

Every few days the tadpole's
mother climbs back up the tree

to the bromeliad to
care for her youngster.

She's laying an egg.

That's what the other
object was in the amber.

These eggs are sterile and
don't grow into frogs; they're food.

But occasionally,

these little worlds up in
the branches were shattered.

At least one falling tadpole
came to a sticky end.

Who would have thought
that amber could reveal

such intimate details
of life in tiny ponds

high up in such trees as these?

But what about the bigger
animals of the forest?

Amber surely can't
tell us anything

about the presence or
absence of these... or can it?

Remarkably, amber does contain
evidence of one such creature,

thanks to some very
oddly shaped seeds.

These are the seeds
of a kind of bamboo.

The hooks on them get
stuck in the hairs of animals

so that the seeds travel with
them, and so are dispersed.

But what sort of animals
carried these seeds?

Well, sometimes such seeds
have hairs still attached to them,

and the only animals
with hairs are mammals.

There were certainly a
number of mammals around

20 million years ago; but
can these hairs help us

to be a little more specific as
to which mammals were here?

They can.

The shape of the scales
on the surface of hairs varies.

And George Poinar used them
to narrow down the possibilities.

They came from
some kind of carnivore.

It seems there were big
cats in the ancient forests.

Perhaps they even hunted
the ancestors of modern coatis.

So that's one more animal that
I know that lived in that forest,

but what about organisms for
which there is not even a hair

to serve as evidence?

Amber really is astonishing,

because as well as carrying
animals' bodies through time,

it can bring clues
to their relationships.

And that is what
makes me certain

that the forest contained
enormous fig trees like this,

although no trace of such a
tree has yet been found in amber.

Let me explain.

George Poinar found
the crucial evidence.

Exhibit A: a minute wasp.

This wasp proves
that the forest had figs,

but to find out what makes
it such a conclusive witness,

we need to see
what goes on today

inside the figs themselves.

Although they look like
fruit, figs are really containers

for the trees' flowers
and its developing seeds.

But some also house wasps.

Fig wasps spend almost
all their lives inside figs,

which are sealed,

so nothing but a fig wasp
can collect their pollen.

And that is how the
wasps repay the fig trees

for providing their nursery...
By distributing their pollen.

These two organisms have come
to rely on each other so closely

that it is impossible for one
to exist without the other.

That is why a single
wasp can guarantee

that the forest
contained fig trees.

The partnership
between figs and wasps

is one of the most intimate
in the whole of nature,

but that piece of amber
had something else to reveal,

something that was
rather more sinister.

The rear end of the
wasp is surrounded

by minute nematode worms.

As the wasps emerge inside
a fig, so do these nematodes.

Each has just a few
minutes to find a wasp

and burrow into its body
before it leaves the fig.

But these are not
conventional parasites.

The only thing they
will take from the wasps

is a free ride to the next fig.

Only amber could have
preserved such minute details

and with them revealed
an extraordinary fact.

The relationship between
the forest's fig trees,

their wasps and worms
that we know today

clearly existed 20
million years ago.

Amber, again and again,
demonstrates this constancy.

Take this, for example.

It looks like a death scene...

A scale insect in the
jaws of a predatory ant...

But the truth is very different.

Scale insects drink the sap
of plants, but this takes time.

Predators would
soon pick them off,

if it wasn't for the
teams of ant bodyguards

that protect them.

And in exchange, the ants
receive a share of the sap.

By providing ants with food
that they can't otherwise reach,

the scale insects have made
themselves indispensable.

This relationship
was so important

that, far from
eating her captive,

this queen ant was
gently carrying it away

so it would set up a new
colony beside her own.

And for 20 million years,

neither partner has had
any reason to change.

What does this astonishing
absence of change imply?

If conditions had
altered radically,

many of these
complex relationships

would have disappeared.

So their presence tells us

that tropical forests must have
existed, largely unchanged,

for at least 20 million years.

But now George
Poinar has traveled back

even further in time.

One of his latest finds
in Dominican amber

takes us back not just 20
million years, but 150 million,

for it has implications about
the earth's geological history.

And this startling new evidence
comes from a single ant.

I have come across its
modern relatives myself,

and their behavior can tell
us something unexpected

about the Dominican
amber forest.

They are honeypot ants,
whose workers have become jars

in which the colony stores
honey to help it through times

when liquid and nectar are
scarce... in the dry season.

So this amber
honeypot ant suggests

that the ancient forest
also had a dry season.

And if the modern ants
are anything to go by,

then it lasted around
three to four months.

So now amber can tell us

how often it rained
20 million years ago.

But it's also evidence
of an event that occurred

even farther back in time.

Because the living honeypot
ants I found don't occur

in the Dominican Republic
or even in South America.

They live in Australia.

So these little
ants are evidence

not only of
climate, but the fact

that once Australia and South
America were joined together

in one super-continent.

Who would have thought

that a single ant
could tell us so much?

The amber time machine
could hardly illuminate

a more global event
than the drift of continents;

but it can also take us
to the opposite extreme.

What surprises might we
find inside an amber animal?

Dr. David Grimaldi

of the American
Museum of Natural History

is especially
interested in lizards.

These anolis lizards
are very territorial,

and the males take great risks

to secure a patch of
bark for themselves.

They spend a lot of time

displaying aggressively to
one another, doing press-ups

and erecting their throat flaps.

And sometimes... they fall.

A few have achieved fame
and immortality, in amber.

But such specimens
are very rare...

and not surprisingly.

A lizard should be strong enough

to unstick itself
from a flow of resin.

But some did not, and
that puzzled David Grimaldi.

He wondered whether they
could be as well preserved inside

as they were outside.

Could he actually look
inside an amber lizard?

He turned to the latest
high-tech scanners.

These are scans that use
very high intensity X-rays

that are too high for
medical purposes.

And we have incredible
detail in any view that we want.

This scan of a gecko's head

shows the finest details of
its skull and even its teeth.

Amber's preservation is
clearly more than skin deep,

but nothing in this
scan could explain

why this gecko was trapped.

So David Grimaldi
turned to another gecko

and looked at its whole body,

this time with
conventional X-rays.

The X-ray revealed

that the bones were
beautifully preserved.

Bones of the skull,
delicate little toe bones,

bones of the legs,

and even individual
vertebrae are revealed.

But from the jumble of bones,

it is clear that the
gecko's back was broken.

It had probably been
picked up and dropped...

Perhaps by a bird of prey.

It didn't escape from the resin

because when it hit
it it was already dead.

As researchers started finding
even smaller internal details

preserved by amber, they
began to ask themselves

something almost unthinkable:

Could amber have
preserved molecular structures

inside an animal...
Perhaps even its DNA?

Some people even imagined

that such DNA could
bring monsters back to life.

And look where that got us...

But there are no remains
of dinosaurs in amber.

Surely their DNA
is beyond our reach.

The Poinars dared to
wonder if that was so.

The story begins 20 years
ago, when Roberta first focused

an electron microscope
on an amber animal.

Inside a fungus gnat like the
one in my piece of Baltic amber,

she discovered
something quite amazing.

It's like a miracle.

Every once in a
while in your life

you witness something that's
just too spectacular for words,

and this was one of the times.

The Poinars had found
40-million-year-old cells

and, more than that,
even the minute structures

inside the cells
were clear to see.

We were kind of flabbergasted

that it was possible to have
such a degree of preservation

after such a long time.

And so I zoomed on up
to a higher magnification

and just was amazed to
see that there were nuclei

with bits of chromatin
in the nucleus

and that is the step
that led us to believe

that DNA was there in the cell

and could perhaps be
pulled out and looked at.

It was an astonishing discovery.

The prospect of finding
such ancient DNA

electrified the
scientific community.

And Hollywood wasn't far behind.

The storyline of Jurassic
Park is very ingenious.

My brother, who
played the scientist,

didn't actually need to find
bits of dinosaur in amber.

Nature had already extracted
their DNA in blood cells

and preserved it inside
an amber mosquito.

But that's pure
fiction, isn't it?

Surely it's impossible
to recover DNA

from any animal which
lived in the distant past.

Well, two teams set out
to attempt exactly that.

One of them included
David Grimaldi.

The other was set
up by the Poinars.

Both knew that their only
chance of finding DNA

was in the
best-preserved animals,

so the Poinars chose to use my
favorites... some stingless bees,

while the other team decided
to work on an amber termite.

We had no expectations...
At least I didn't...

When we did this study.

We did the
extractions, we tried it.

Several of the extractions
were unsuccessful.

But then both teams struck gold.

Tissue extracted
from the Poinar's bees

tested positive for DNA.

And David Grimaldi got the
same result from the termite.

And our first reaction,
particularly mine,

was really disbelief.

I was astounded
at the possibility

of DNA being preserved.

It really was astounding.

They were claiming to have
recovered DNA from animals

which had died 20
million years before.

Not yet as old as the dinosaurs,

but that's what a new team,

including the
Poinars, turned to next.

And when they said
what they had found,

they caught the
attention of the world.

They had DNA from an
insect older than T. rex.

So could Hollywood
possibly have got it right?

We felt that bringing
back an entire dinosaur

was not in the realm

of possibility at this time.

Barraged with the
common question:

"When are you going to
clone extinct organisms?"

And we constantly
had to repeat ourselves:

"We're not going to do that."

But why not?

If DNA is indeed
preserved in amber,

it is so chopped
up, so fragmentary,

that it's impossible to
reconstruct the entire genome,

and then insert it into
some surrogate organism

and then, you know,

have a complete resurrected
extinct species out of that.

That's... that's
absolutely impossible.

As the blaze of publicity
surrounding the film faded,

so other scientists
tried to extract DNA

from amber insects,

and their results, when
they were published,

were bad news for the
Poinars and David Grimaldi.

None of them had found
even a trace of ancient DNA.

But what went wrong?

What some of
them found, in fact,

were contaminate DNA sequences,

and I have to admit,

by that point I was
pretty much convinced

that the original reports of
DNA sequences in amber

were of contaminate DNA.

And some of the scientists
that did make an attempt

got all kinds of strange things.

They would get, uh... fish DNA.

Well, perhaps they
had a tuna fish sandwich

that they... and were careless.

Like most other researchers,

David Grimaldi has
changed his mind.

But George Poinar
is still confident

that a few rare pieces
of amber do contain DNA.

And some insects

certainly could have drunk
the blood of dinosaurs.

These sandflies have
been preserved in amber

for a hundred million years.

Who knows what
might be inside them?

And that is why amber
fascinates me so much.

It has brought us
so many surprises.

The prospect of it preserving
DNA brought dinosaurs back...

At least in our imaginations.

And the creatures that
traveled in it through time

bring us vivid snapshots
of the Caribbean forest

as it was 20 million years ago.

And my piece of Baltic
amber, the first I ever owned,

has preserved creatures
with such perfection

that they're still
startlingly beautiful.

What a journey amber
has taken me on.

And it all came from a gift

from a small girl
over 60 years ago.

I imagine Marianne and her
father found my piece of amber

by walking along a Baltic shore

just as thousands of people
had done before them.

Its magic may not extend
to re-creating a dinosaur,

but for me, amber remains
a substance of wonder,

a time machine that can show us

exactly how some things looked
tens of millions of years ago.