Sunday, November 23, 2014

Amber from Chiapas State, Mexico

A stroll around the Zocalo in Mexico City, if you are observant, will reveal stalls selling cheap amber jewellery and trinkets. The amber comes from occurrences in the mountains of Chiapas State near the border with Guatemala. Much of it is pressed amber showing embedded fossilized insects, scorpions, and even peso coins, the latter should make you suspicious of their authenticity.

To learn more about Mexican amber you have to go and stay awhile in San Cristobal de las Casas, a southern city of population about 100,000 and located up in the mountains at an altitude of 2100 meters. From Mexico City it is a journey of 1085 kms and takes 19 hours by bus. There are several interesting places to visit on the way, like Puebla and Oaxaca. San Cristobal is a junction for travelers going to or from the Yucatan and Guatemala. It is a haven for backpackers, hippies and tourists with its cheap accommodation and plentiful supply of Indian handicrafts.

In San Cristobal one must visit the Museo del Ambar de Chiapas which is housed in the Ex Convento de la Merced to see a huge collection of local amber and learn the history of its exploitation. The ancient Mayans of southern Mexico used and traded amber. The present day mines are near Simojovel and Totolapa in Chiapas State, some 80 kms north of the city. It occurs in a grey, micaceous sandstone of late Oligocene to early Miocene Age (20 to 30 million years ago) with a capping of lignite. It originates from the resin of the tree "Guapinol" and is associated with fossil brachiopods, gasteropods and molluscs.