Academic reading practice test 39 Ambergris Tackling Hunger in Msekeni Placebo effect – The Power of Nothing
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What is it and where does it come from?
Ambergris was used to perfume cosmetics in the days of ancient Mesopotamia
and almost every civilization on the earth has a brush with Ambergriss. Before
1,000 AD, the Chinese names ambergriss as lung sien hiang, “dragon’s spittle
perfume,” as they think that it was produced from the drooling of dragons
sleeping on rocks at the edge of a sea. The Arabs knew ambergriss as anbar who
believed that it is produced from springs near seas. It also gets its name from
here. For centuries, this substance has also been used as a flavouring for food.
During the Middle Ages, Europeans used ambergriss as a remedy for headaches,
colds, epilepsy, and other ailments. In the 1851 whaling novel Moby-Dick,
Herman Melville claimed that ambergriss was “largely used in perfumery.” But
nobody ever knew where it really came from. Experts were still guessing its origin
thousands of years later, until the long ages of guesswork ended in the 1720’s,
when Nantucket whalers found gobs of the costly material inside the stomachs of
sperm whales. Industrial whaling quickly burgeoned. By 20th century ambergriss
is mainly recovered from inside the carcasses of sperm whales.
Through countless ages, people have found pieces of ambergriss on sandy
beaches. It was named grey amber to distinguish it from golden amber, another
rare treasure. Both of them were among the most sought-after substances in the
world, almost as valuable as gold. (Ambergriss sells for roughly $20 a gram,
slightly less than gold at $30 a gram.) Amber floats in salt water, and in old times
the origin of both these substances was mysterious. But it turned out that amber
and ambergriss have little in common. Amber is a fossilized resin from trees that
was quite familiar to Europeans long before the discovery of the New World, and
prized for jewelry Although considered a gem, amber is a hard, transparent,
wholly-organic material derived from the resin of extinct species of trees, mainly
To the earliest Western chroniclers, ambergriss was variously thought to come
from the same bituminous sea founts as amber, from the sperm of fishes or
whales, from the droppings of strange sea birds (probably because of confusion
over the included beaks of squid) or from the large hives of bees living near the
sea. Marco Polo was the first Western chronicler who correctly attributed
ambergriss to sperm whales and its vomit.
As sperm whales navigate in the oceans, they often dive down to 2 km or more
below the sea level to prey on squid, most famously the Giant Squid. It’s
commonly accepted that ambergriss forms in the whale’s gut or intestines as the
creature attempts to “deal” with squid beaks. Sperm whales are rather partial to
squid, but seemingly struggle to digest the hard, sharp, parrot-like beaks. It is
thought their stomach juices become hyperactive trying to process the irritants,
and eventually hard, resinous lumps are formed around the beaks, and then
expelled from their innards by vomiting. When a whale initially vomits up
ambergriss, it is soft and has a terrible smell. Some marine biologists compare it
to the unpleasant smell of cow dung. But after floating on the salty ocean for
about a decade, the substance hardens with air and sun into a smooth, waxy,
usually rounded piece of nostril heaven. The dung smell is gone, replaced by a
sweet, smooth, musky and pleasant earthy aroma.
Since ambergriss is derived from animals, naturally a question of ethics arises,
and in the case of ambergriss, it is very important to consider. Sperm whales are
an endangered species, whose populations started to decline as far back as the
19th century due to the high demand for their highly emollient oil, and today their
stocks still have not recovered. During the 1970’s, the Save the Whales
movement brought the plight of whales to international recognition. Many people
now believe that whales are “saved”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All
around the world, whaling still exists. Many countries continue to hunt whales, in
spite of international treaties to protect them. Many marine researchers are
concerned that even the trade in naturally found ambergriss can be harmful by
creating further incentives to hunt whales for this valuable substance.
One of the forms ambergriss is used today is as a valuable fixative in perfumes to
enhance and prolong the scent. But nowadays, since ambergriss is rare and
expensive, and big fragrance suppliers that make most of the fragrances on the
market today do not deal in it for reasons of cost, availability and murky legal
issues, most perfumeries prefer to add a chemical derivative which mimics the
properties of ambergriss. As a fragrance consumer, you can assume that there is
no natural ambergriss in your perfume bottle, unless the company advertises this
fact and unless you own vintage fragrances created before the 1980s. If you are
wondering if you have been wearing a perfume with this legendary ingredient,
you may want to review your scent collection. Here are a few of some of the top
ambergriss containing perfumes: Givenchy Amarige, Chanel No. 5, and Gucci
Classify the following information as referring to
A ambergris only
B amber only
C both ambergris and amber
D neither ambergris nor amber
Write the correct letter, A, B, C, or D in boxes 1-6 on your answer sheet.
1 . being expensive
2 . adds flavor to food
3 . used as currency
4 . being see-through
5 . referred to by Herman Melville
6 . produces sweet smell
Complete the sentences below with NO MORE THAN ONE WORD from the
passage. Write your answers in boxes 7-9 on your answer sheet.
7 Sperm whales can’t digest the ___ of the squids.
8 Sperm whales drive the irritants out of their intestines by __ .
9 The vomit of sperm whale gradually _____ on contact of air before having
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 1?
In boxes 10-13 on your answer sheet, write
TRUE if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this
10 Most ambergris comes from the dead whales today.
11 Ambergris is becoming more expensive than before.
12 Ambergris is still a popular ingredient in perfume production today.
13 New uses of ambergris have been discovered recently.
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