"Eternity, not time ..."

The recently discovered chunks of New Jersey amber contain an amazing treasure. They tell a story. Frozen in time within each translucent piece is a record of biological life that is very old indeed. Among the discoveries revealed in minute detail are the ancient bloom of the earth's most primitive oak, the delicate wings of a wasp, and the earliest-known evidence of a terrestrial bird that walked in North America at least ninety million years ago. See David A. Grimaldi, "Captured in Amber," Scientific American, April 1996, pp. 84–91 .

Trying to think in terms like that—all those millions of years captured in a piece of amber—isn't easy. Mankind's written history goes back perhaps a few thousand years. People's personal stories review mostly the decades of this past century. (Recently I met a woman who has been working two days a week at an inner-city church in Boston. They honored her one-hundredth birthday a few months ago.) But a bird that preened its feathers in New Jersey ninety million years ago? The human mind may take in the numerical symbol easily enough; after all, it's only a number. But the huge span of time it represents can feel beyond us somehow.

NEXT IN THIS ISSUE
Editorial
In the midnight hour—a wedding!
August 26, 1996
Contents

We'd love to hear from you!

Easily submit your testimonies, articles, and poems online.

Submit