Fall/Winter 2009

(published by the International Colored Gem Association ICA

Written by Alec Corday and Hermann Dittrich

When Christopher Columbus stepped onto the sands of the island of Hispaniola in the “New World,” amber was already a well-known commodity in Europe, having been used since Neolithic times.

During his voyage, Columbus wrote in one of his letters that he even gave an amber necklace to one of the Taino tribal chiefs on Hispaniola as a gift. The Admiral also recorded the find of large pieces of amber on the island itself, including “one mass of which weighed three hundred pounds.” Although this encouraged him to believe that there were more treasures to be found on Hispaniola [1], he and his fellow Conquistadors had their sights set on gold instead of amber, and they wouldn’t let a few naked natives stand in their way.

Five hundred years and a genocide later, Hispaniola no longer had any Tainos or even much gold left. Instead, it boasted a thriving population split into two nations—Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Although there were random finds of amber by the locals, the true exploration and exploitation of this material did not start until the 1960s with small mining operations and jewelry fabrications.

Slowly Dominican amber emerged from obscurity and out of the shadow of Baltic amber. By the 1980s, there was a small but flourishing community of miners and artisans around the area of La Toca in theCordillera Septentrional, a mountain range located between the coastal city of Puerto Plata and the city ofSantiago de los Treinta Caballeros in the north, and around Bayaguana and Sabana de la Mar in the east [2].

InColor Fall/Winter 2009
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