Cape York beach
Remote beaches along the Cape York coastline have yielded rare Australian amber containing the remains of tiny animals from the past.

Amber
Amber from Cape York.

Cape York Amber research program

Rare and precious time-capsules from Australia's tropical past

15 million years ago, as the northward journey of the Australian landmass pushed northern Australia into tropical latitudes, global temperature and rainfall peaked at highs not attained since. From then on the Australian climate changed markedly to the drier and relatively cooler conditions of today. At Cape York in northern Australia, remarkable relics from this period of global climatic transition have been found. Plants and insects millions of years old have been found preserved in intricate detail in precious amber, the fossilised resin from ancient rainforest trees.

Background

Amber is formed by the chemical alteration of resin exuded by certain types of trees - such as kauri pines - over very long periods of time. Because it can trap and preserve material would otherwise be lost to the processes of time, amber can be a very important source of fossil material. Amber is known to contain insects, small vertebrates, plant fossils and even bubbles of air - tiny samples of ancient atmosphere.

Fossils like these, which have been identified in the amber from Cape York, have enormous potential to yield clues to scientists about life and climate millions of years ago. These kinds of fossils are very rare in the Australian record, and this find represents the first known amber from Australia.

Scientists collect amber washed up on beaches along the remote eastern coast of the Cape York Peninsula. The source of this amber remains a mystery and is currently the focus of ongoing detective work.

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