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ERC-European Research Council (ERC)

Amber Worlds: A Geological Anthropology for the Anthropocene

Tildelt: kr 15,2 mill.






2023 - 2028


The Anthropocene compels us to question established categories and binaries through which we understand the world and act in it: human and nonhuman, life and nonlife, biological and geological. What we still lack is a theoretical framework, methodological and storytelling tools, to analyse environmental and social concerns alongside geological pasts and futures. AMBER addresses this key challenge by drawing scientific understanding of ecological and geological relations into a global ethnography of the extraction and exchange of a unique, emblematic gemstone. Amber is a fossilised resin secreted by plants between 16 and 300 million years ago; it is found across the planet and is one of the earliest recorded items in long-distance trade. Aside from its ornamental value, amber contains prehistoric organic material – leaves, invertebrates, dinosaur fragments. This has generated intense scientific interest, so amber is now studied in palaeontology and geology laboratories to answer fundamental questions about the planet’s biological evolution and previous phases of mass extinction. This project will be the first in-depth, global study of amber across industry, trade, and science. AMBER breaks new ground by bringing together three dimensions in a common analysis: anthropological frameworks of global circulations; the political ecology of resource extraction; and non-humanist approaches to scientific research and ethics of care beyond the human. Rooted in anthropology, the project considers the multiple and entangled worlds of amber: its extractive economies in the war-torn forests of Kachin state; its scientific study in laboratories in China and Europe; and its wholesale trade in Santo Domingo, Kaliningrad and the Baltic states, and China. The project examines their intersections through collaborative and comparative research and will thus lay the conceptual groundwork for a new geological anthropology for the Anthropocene.


ERC-European Research Council (ERC)


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