it's very unlikely
I've been looking online for information about identifying ambergris. These basenotes forums have repeatedly come up in my searches, so I thought it might be fruitful to post my own thread and solicit the opinions and advice of other basenote forum members.
A little more than a year ago, while walking along a deserted beach on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, I stumbled across a very strange looking rock. It actually looked like an old loaf of bread or a large chunk of old cheese. A month or so ago, I came across an online article about a young boy who found a large piece of ambergris on a beach in England; the pictures of the ambergris in this article looked very similar to my strange looking rock. Here are a few pictures of my potential ambergris:
I haven't been able to accurately weigh it yet, but I estimate its weight at around three pounds. It is very dense and has a very hard exterior. I tried the hot needle test, but it did not penetrate. The scent is delicate but persistent: a sweet smell, like honey, with earthy undertones. Although the aroma is delicate, it is quite intoxicating.
If you have any information or opinions that might help me in my efforts to identify this mysterious and enticing material, please share your thoughts. Any advice you give will be greatly appreciated!
it's very unlikely
I don't know much about the stuff, but Nantucket was known for being a hub for whaling back when it was practiced, so I guess they could live around there (since MV is close).
saripatates, do you think it's very unlikely because ambergris is so rare, or because their is something about the material I displayed/described in my post that leads you to believe it is not ambergris?
Why don't you take it to a marine biologist???
If it is, you are a very rich person.
Perhaps, this site http://www.ambergris.co.nz/identification.htm and the test therein will prove invaluable.
Is it a Cornish pasty?
Not likely. It doesn't really look like it if you compare it to googled pics of ambergris. But do check with a marine biologist or something.
Here are the pictures of the British boy and his ambergris that sparked my interest. My specimen seems to resmble his.
And a link to the story on acbnews.com: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headline...poop-on-beach/
And yes, it does rather look like a Cornish pastry
Last edited by bergris13; 9th October 2012 at 07:45 PM.
Nice, certainly looks similar to the ambergris the boy found. Your description of the smell is another positive sign. Could be a great find!!
If it really is ambergris, congrats to you! You will be at least $10K richer!
Send a PM to Basenoter mumsy - she's the ambergris queen!
Hey man, yesterday I posted your question on reddit's askscience area, and a marine biologist got back to me saying the following:
Hm, interesting. I think it might be. It certainly looks like it could be, so it's worth having someone else look at it. Someone at Woods Hole ought to be able to give a definitive answer since the finder is in Nantucket.
Hope that helps!
I would definitely follow through with that and have it assessed by a professional. To the naked eye, it appears to be very similar o the ambergris found by the boy in England. I hope it is. You will get a hefty sum for it. Good luck buddy.
Well, I do like the name I must say. I shall try. Please don't take my opinion as gospel though.
I'm having a good look and it isn't always easy to tell just from pics as they are prone to looking really different from each other. The main thing that troubled me about the boys find is the straight nature of the sides bearing in mind this is something formed in a soft tummy. We also haven't heard a single thing about it since. I'm afraid I doubted his was the real thing at the time, but I didn't smell it or see it. Another pic of it looked like a different bit to me. I really hoped I was wrong, but I suspected his was a bit of ships detritus as there had been a few incidences of similar looking waxy waste near Norfolk and upwards in the UK before his bit was found. I was sent a bit of another hopeful one from it and it smelled vile like petrochemicals. His looked very like old bread.
Obviously there can be fractured bits off a larger lump causing straight lines but I would expect the shape to be curving around a central section in many thin layers. Yours also has these straight lines too so I'm not sure. Don't get your hopes up too high. Spermaceti sometimes looks similar to ambergris. You do however describe a delicate intoxicating smell and that is more promising. It is certainly worth checking out because of the smell.
Here are a few other things to check out...
Is it an oceanic fecal smell at all or a nice smell? Has the smell changed as it dried?
Can you see any evidence of beaks or darker slivers within the central sections?
You say you found this a year ago. Did you happen to weigh it then and now? Is it getting lighter and any more brittle?
Is that surface waxy? Are the insides waxy? Spermaceti is a sort of flotation waxy matter from the head cavity.
Is the colour very orange like the pics?
Are you able to take another shot showing the insides bit?
Was it impossible to get a hot pin into?
I hope this helps you a bit. I presume you have had a good look online to see a typical piece.
Thanks for taking a look at it, mumsy. I have posted a few more close-up looks below. I would also like to briefly respond to your questions:
- The material is very hard and has been since I found it lying on the beach about a year ago. it has not changed. It feels heavy for its size - very dense. It is not chalk-like. It is hard like a rock. A hot needle would not penetrate it.
- The smell has not changed since we found it. The first smell is sweet, like honey, but there is more happening behind the sweetness that I would describe as earthy or musky. My wife and I have both noticed how the smell seems to stick in our noses for a while.
- There does appear to be some darker material beneath the surface. One side is somewhat translucent and there are dark spots hazily evident beneath it.
- On the beach where I found this piece, all of the rocks were stained orange/red/brown by what I would guess was the high iron content of the local water.
- I would not describe the surface as waxy, although it appears that the semi-translucent side of the piece had melted at some point. Half of the piece is smooth, while the other half is ridged with thin layers that are also somewhat smoothed.
If the pictures and information above are in any way enlightening, please don't hesitate to share your ideas or advice.
Last edited by bergris13; 10th October 2012 at 06:49 PM.
Well this is a tough one... literally.
It bothers me that it is so very hard, and it bothers me quite a lot that it hasn't lost any weight since you found it. I suppose there shouldn't be any logical reason why a very ancient bit of ambergris shouldn't have become fossilised.
I would have expected it to be able to flake off at those layered edges and be crumbly.
The orange is not particularly indicative but if all the other rocks also were stained by something else, then anything is possible. The sun could have melded one side of it to make it look smooth. Ambergris ought to melt with the hot needle trick. It should make an inky burning hole with some tar like stuff on the needle.
I was very inclined to think it wasn't with the first pictures, and it doesn't look like any bits I have seen before. I'm less sure however because of the smell you describe and the circular layers. The smell is the best indicator, especially if it lingers or smells remotely oceanic fecal.
If it isn't a huge bother or expense to get it tested, then it depends if you like the puzzle. I would think it would need to have a bit broken off for testing. If you are going to keep it as it is either one way or the other, then maybe having a mystery of the sea and not being sure is more fun than being sure. The only reason to break up a bit of ambergris is to make perfumes with it. Do you want it broken or do you like having it?
Another link for you
why I think it's unlikely
it doesn't look like amber at all.
even if it did look like an amber many things that look like amber are not amber.
it doesn't melt
the smell could be due to a confirmation bias, as in you wanting it to be ambergris. and I am unable to smell it.
if I were to bet my 2 cents, I'd say it's spray foam.
It may be worth contacting Christopher Kemp, Michigan-based author of 'Floating Gold', for an opinion or advice on how to get it checked out. He's a member here, cjkemp; you could send him a pm. See this thread:
Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts on this mystery. For the past year or so (well before we ever even heard the word ambergris), my wife and I have prominently displayed this strange rock in our apartment, simply because we thought it was beautiful and interesting and cool. Never did we imagine that it held any monetary value. If it does turn out to be ambergis, I will be shocked and amazed. If it turns out to be something other than ambergris, even if it's monetarily worthless, it will remain beautiful and interesting and cool in our eyes, and we will continue to display it and tell its story. However, every good story has some sort of a resolution, and that's what I am looking for now. Whatever this material may be, we want to know for sure. Unless it is in fact spray-foam, in which case, I'd prefer it remained a mystery.
Regarding Mr. Kemp, we came across his name and his book while doing our initial research on the subject of ambergris. My wife has already contacted him via twitter, and he was kind enough to respond with some preliminary questions. The pictures and descriptions included in this thread would probably be very useful in assessing this specimen, if he was inclined to do so. I was not aware that he was also a member of the basenotes community. Thanks for the heads-up! I will definitely PM him and invite him to have a look.
Thanks again for all your attention and thoughts!
Last edited by bergris13; 11th October 2012 at 03:56 AM.
I'll respond more fully later when I have a few minutes, but I'm afraid it doesn't look good.
Just reading through this I'm inclined to agree with those who doubt this is real ambergris. Mumsy has already gone through most of the reasons to doubt it but one that she didn't mention that struck me is you say it seems heavy for it's size and very dense: ambergris seems light for its size and even when it is very old and hard it still floats: so there is a simple test you can do to check, if it sinks in water, it certainly isn't ambergris.
Last edited by Chris Bartlett; 11th October 2012 at 12:19 PM. Reason: minor corrections
Brilliant as always Chris. Only not if it was fossilised!
But if it's fossilised, it's rock and not ambergris.Only not if it was fossilised!
Yeah, Chris Bartlett is totally right. Ambergris is slightly less dense than water and should float, maybe mostly submerged, but definitely no sinking. And if a hot needle doesn't penetrate it, it's clearly made of something else. It doesn't look quite right. This is interesting because the white portions sort of look a bit like ambergris but then it's topped by that distinctly different strata of orange-colored bubbly material which doesn't really look anything like ambergris at all.
My guess is that it's probably the product of an industrial process, maybe some weird extruded substance that has floated in the ocean for a while.
Incidentally, I was interviewed by the BBC and NPR, ABC News and the Discovery Channel when the English boy found his ambergris and I told every news outlet I spoke with that I didn't think it was ambergris. It might be. But it looks a bit odd to me.
I don't know if I've ever heard of fossilized ambergris, by the way.
Neither have I. I just didn't want to be too harsh on bergris13's treasure too fast. I had sent a PM being more definite at the same time.
So far as I know there isn't any known fossil ambergris and if ambergris had fossilised I don't see how you could ever know that it was, since once the ambergris had been replaced by the rock it would just be fossil poo . . . that is a rock that looked like a bit of poo having formed where poo once was . . . fun for educational purposes perhaps (imagine that in a primary school class) but otherwise fairly uninteresting.
There is of course fossil amber - not a true fossil at all but very old tree resin - so old that it is of the same vintage as a lot of real fossils. That floats on water too and shares a few olfactory similarities with ambergris but I'm pretty sure that isn't what is in those pictures, whatever else it is.
I just caught this thread - hi Mumsy!
Posted a bit about ambergris vetting on my blog today, and the comments are full of info too, if you'd like to check it out. PS I reviewed Ckemp's book for Fragrantica, and include a photo from there on my blog that will have your head reeling as to ambergris and ambergris faux stuff that washes up. PS I don't think anybody in this BN thread mentioned the hot needle test, an oldie but goodie.
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We have just found this on the beach today, is it ambergris?
Would appreciate any comments you may have. cheers.