Ants and cricket in copal from prehistoric Madagascar. An excellent slab of polished copal which reveals a myriad of life. The copal contains an array of fauna such as ants, gnats and flies of varying sizes, in addition to a large quantity of insect faeces, hairs, flora and other debris of the forest. Anything that could be blown onto the sticky sap has been entombed. Many ants are missing body parts and the inclusion of one large arachnid leg would suggest some predation has taken place. A partial cricket resides in a flow of debris; the cricket head, antennae, abdomen, a complete leg and one large portion of a leg all entombed within.
Naturally petrified within copal, the insect life has been trapped on excreted sap which seeped from ancient trees within the tropical jungles of Madagascar. This exotic island now lies in the Indian Ocean 250 miles off the south eastern coast of Africa. Madagascar developed a unique isolated flora and fauna over the millennia, which remains endemic to the island. Most copal discovered in the southern hemisphere of South America and southern parts of Africa are considered to be up to 65,000 years old. As carbon dating is not considered accurate beyond 50,000 years it is presently considered difficult to date these petrified and fossilised specimens, therefore, until further research is published these fossilised tree resins remain scientifically undeterminable.
The only way scientists can date ambers and copal is by the location of the deposit and thus in which fossil strata they are found in. By dating this layer we can date the specimen fossil. However, if the layer formation or sediments containing the fossil copal was deposited, eroded at a later date and then re-deposited, it could be much older. Similarly, there is no way of knowing when the ambers were first deposited. We can only date the fossil ambers and copal based on the deposit layer it is found within. We often determine many of our specimens and inclusions of flora and fauna with reference to Mr Andrew Ross’s books and publications, including personal identification carried out in his department. Mr Ross started curating the amber collection at the department of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, London in 1993.