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Preliminary characterization of Palaeogene European ambers using ToF-SIMS


Rana N. S. Sodhi, Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 3E5, Canada.



Amber comprises polymerized plant resins that have a remarkable capacity for survival in a range of geological environments. Most ambers can be traced to coniferous trees and typically combine a broad array of plant natural products including terpenoids, carboxylic acids, and associated alcohols. Because amber may entomb various organisms at the time of production and preserve them with unmatched fidelity, it has been studied for centuries. Despite extensive geochemical profiling of amber-derived extracts using techniques such as gas-chromatography mass spectrometry, to date amber compositional variability has not been investigated by time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS). We conducted a series of scans on microtomed surfaces of Baltic and Bitterfeld ambers, representing two of Europe's major deposits, both of Palaeogene age. We exploited authentic standards of mono-methyl succinate and diterpene resin acids to guide interpretation of the results. The ToF-SIMS spectra are highly reproducible for each amber type considered and highlight subtle differences that are likely underscored by differences in age, botanical provenance, and post-depositional history. Importantly, the abundance of succinate is consistently higher in Baltic amber relative to Bitterfeld amber, suggesting they are distinct deposits and not regional variants of each other. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.