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Hundreds of scientific papers have emerged from the amber finds, and Chinese scientists hint that many specimens have yet to be published, including birds, insect species by the thousands, and even aquatic animals such as crabs or salamanders.

But as much as Burmese amber is a scientist's dream, it's also an ethical minefield.

On contact, resin seeps into tissues, protecting the entombed animals and plants from fungus and rot while also drying them out.

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Some vendors hawk jade or snacks, but most everyone is here for the amber: raw amber coated in gray volcanic ash; polished amber carved into smiling Buddhas; egg-size dollops of amber the color of honey, molasses, or garnet.

Some browsers seek treasure for their own collections, whereas others act as virtual dealers, holding amber pieces in front of their smartphones and snapping images for distant buyers.

The collectors often win the bidding, meaning researchers can study many specimens only on loan.

The mixture of commerce and science "raises new questions that we have not faced …

For scientists, this is more than a place to buy pendants or bracelets.

One morning in March, paleontologist Xing Lida from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing stops at a table and examines a cockroach in a golf ball–size glob of amber, paused in time from the middle of the Cretaceous period. But he moves on, hunting rarer, more scientifically valuable game.

The trees bled massive quantities of resin when insects attacked them or storms broke off limbs.

The resin puddled and pooled, miring countless creatures "like a mini–La Brea Tar Pits," says paleontologist Ryan Mc Kellar at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina, Canada.

As Grimaldi expresses it: Imagine giving an entomologist a bigger bug net and allowing them to swing it more times. "It's the vertebrates that are absolutely, truly astonishing," says Andrew Ross, head of paleobiology for National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh.

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