Dodging rumour and insurgency: the hunt for Burmese amber goes to the heart of Myanmar’s turbulent north – by Sam Cooley (Financial Post – January 30, 2017)

MYITKYINA, MYANMAR — The discovery of the world’s first preserved dinosaur tail embedded inside a chunk of amber made headlines in newspapers across the planet last month. Nicknamed Eva, this small piece of fossilized tree sap is fast becoming a scientific phenomenon due to the intact chemical structure of the organism inside.

The exceedingly rare and highly valuable Cretaceous-era tail ended up in the hands of a paleontologist named Lida Xing, whose group obtained the 99-million-year-old stone during a 2015 trip to Kachin State in Northern Myanmar, the origin of some of the world’s best amber inclusions, the flora and fauna found inside the gems.

A dinosaur tail blows every other inclusion out of the water and is a big deal for gem dealers around the world, some of whom can sell a single spider inclusion for US$1,000. Eva could easily fetch US$100,000.

Since Eva’s discovery, great tales of disguise and deception employed by Xing to visit insurgent-held regions of Kachin State have been reported. Through the use of fake identification and locally worn face paint, Xing is said to have entered insurgent-controlled mines to conduct research before eventually coming across the now-famous “dino-bird” tail.

The tales seem to indicate the whole act of obtaining amber from Northern Myanmar is a death-, disease- and arrest-defying stunt. It’s not quite that dire, since anyone with enough guts to travel to Kachin State can score a good deal on amber inclusions, but few foreigners are aware it’s even possible to trade in what might be a $1-billion industry, let alone advisable given the country’s turbulent past.

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