Attenborough: Amber Time Machine

Broadcast (1996) David Attenborough turns his life long fascination with amber into a time travelling detective story that spans 150 million years. Examining and identifying the contents of this unique material , he opens a window into prehistoric tropical rainforests and unravels detailed stories about the plants and animals that lived there. The episode shows Attenborough searching for the identities of preserved creatures inside a piece of Baltic Amber that was given to him by his adoptive sister when he was twelve years old. The Amber Time Machine is part of the Attenborough in Paradise and Other Personal Voyages a collection of seven documentaries.

It shows how a group of scientists can reconstruct an entire twenty million year old ecosystem through pieces of Dominican amber. Examples include a tadpole preserved in Amber after falling from a Bromeliad. Attenborough then discusses the scientific feasibility of DNA being preserved in Amber, and the science behind the 1993 hit techno thriller Jurassic Park, in which Richard Attenborough starred as John Hammond. Several attempts were tried, with DNA eventually being recovered from a weevil that was several million years older than Tyrannosaurus rex. Attenborough reasons that a few old, rare pieces of Amber may contain DNA.

Amber is fossilized tree resin (not sap), which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents. As it originates as a soft, sticky tree resin, amber sometimes contains animal and plant material. Amber occurring in coal seams is also called resinite, and the term ambrite is applied to that found specifically within New Zealand.