A gemologist may have rewritten human history. Or, at least part of the way science understands how matter works – and how time helps the formation of fossils, gemstones, minerals, rocks, and more. GIA Graduate Gemologist, Brian Berger, happened to find a fossilized insect inside an opal during a trip to Indonesia.
Opalized human and dinosaur bones have been found previously. The thing that makes finding an opalized insect so rare is that it appears mostly intact. This is a complete contradiction to known science.
Everything changes with time. For example, how certain types of wood turns into stone, which is called petrified wood. How shells, dead coral, and other dead crustaceans turn into limestone. How magma forms granite. And, of course, how tree resin turns into amber.
Many of these changes happen to catch a slice of life from those millions of years ago inside. Often, this happens inside limestone and amber and over millions of years. Even the crude oil we pump out of the ground began its life as fossils.
Considering we do usually find fossils inside of amber, which forms in a very different way and much faster than opals do, finding one in opal is an extremely infrequent occurrence.
Amber formed when tree resin from around 70 million years ago hardened over the millennia and fossilized. When we find fossils inside amber, it’s usually in the form of insects that got stuck in the resin before it hardened.
Opalization, on the other hand, happens via mineral alteration. This is a very different process that converts various minerals and organic substances into opals by replacing it with tiny particles of silica that has some water mixed into it – a rare form of silica dioxide that makes opals so desirable. This process usually completely replaces all organic matter, leaving nothing behind.
So how did the insect wind up opalized? Berger, the scientist who found it, believes that the opal fossil got its start as an insect trapped in resin that later fossilized into amber.
According to the report:
“Organic specimens can turn into opal similar to the way fossilization turns bone into stone…”
Berger wrote about the find that:
“Theoretically speaking, the insect was likely trapped in tree sap or resin which, over time and under the right circumstances was preserved as amber with the insect encasement. “
Entomologist Ryan McKellar said he saw a rare combination of opalized amber in Canada, where he works as the paleontological invertebrate curator at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. What he saw he said was half amber, half opal – a feat achieved when, according to the report, silica turned the wood exposed to the air into petrified wood, while the amber preserved the other half of the wood.
Australian paleontologists found opalized dinosaur fossils as recently as December of 2018 in an area in New South Wales well known for opalized fossils. This particular find actually resulted in the discovery of a new dinosaur species.
Called the Weewarrasaurus pobeni, when it lived had a beak and teeth that scientists say allowed it to eat vegetation. It also “walked on its hind legs,” and is as big as a Labrador retriever, according to the report.
Opals come in all colors of the rainbow, and the color they achieve depends on exactly how the silica lines up when it forms. Opals are technically called mineraloids, which differ slightly from minerals in how they form. The process that forms them is essentially the same as the way that we harvest salt from the Great Lakes. The structure that’s left behind tends to reflect light in a way that creates the different colors. Similar to the way sunlight makes a rainbow when it hits a prism.
The skull they found in Australia in December is a pretty iridescent blue and green. There’s even an opal called the “Virgin Rainbow,” that actually glows in the dark. It’s valued at just over $1 million and resides in the Southern Australia Museum.
The insect Berger found is a beautiful amber color, with yellow and green veins and specks of other colors running through it.
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Featured Image: Screenshot Via YouTube Video.