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Everyone I know, loves Amber. There is something about the golden color, the warm feel, the wisdom it holds within. We love Amber so much that we use it for oils, incense and soaps. Its smell is intoxicating, its history confusing... wait! Confusing?

Amber - Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Amber can only be properly labeled as Amber under very specific conditions. Not everything that is golden in color and looks like hardened sap is Amber. In fact, Amber is not a sap at all! So let's go through these fun facts one at a time. We call this the A,B,C's of Amber.

In very simple terms, in order to qualify a piece of resin as true Amber, a couple of things need to have happened. First, the molecules must have polymerized or formed a polymer (a compound where two or more molecules have joined together) and secondly, the specimen must be at least 100,000 years old

Copal or Copalite is the term given to organic resins that are not old enough (ie YOUNGER than 100,000 years) to have fossilized and hardened sufficiently to become Amber.

Amber is often imitated by plastics, colored glasses and some modern tree resins.  True Ambers have a low specific gravity (Amber can float on salt water) and inclusions can distinguish it from plastics and glasses.  Their color ranges from Ice Tea to Golden Amber to Orange, sometimes with a red or blue tint.

In Africa, Copal is found in the coastal countries of East and West Africa, but especially on Madagascar. This so-called Madagascar Amber is solidified resin of the Amber Pine but is only 1,000 - 10,000 years old.

Amber from Columbia is less than 250 years old and in fact is not Amber at all, but the softer, younger version called Copal.

Amber from the Baltics has been dated to average between 35-50 Million years old.

Amber from the Dominican republic is up to 40 million years old. Dominican Amber differentiates itself from Baltic Amber by being mostly transparent and often containing a higher number of fossil inclusions.

Copal Tumbled
Tumbled Copal (Extra Grade)

In summary, here are a few facts about Amber and Copal:

  • Amber is defined by geologists as fossilized tree resin.
  • Amber is tree resin (not tree sap). Sap is the fluid that circulates through a plant's vascular system. Sap to a tree, is like blood flowing through the veins of you or me. Resin, on the other hand, is a semi-solid amorphous (no crystal structure) organic substance that is secreted in pockets and canals through epithelial cells of the plant. It's the really sticky stuff that, after time, will fossilize and harden.
  • True Amber (at least 100,000 years old) is high in demand but low in supply.
  • Hardened tree resin that is less than 100,000 years old is called Copal.
  • Copal becomes Amber when it has finished fossilizing.
  • Copal is still in the process of turning into a fossil.
  • Copal can "craze" or crack on the surface as the volatile oils (or turpenes) evaporate.
  • Copal will dissolve in acetone, but Amber will not.
  • Copal from Madagascar and Columbia are 250 to 10,000 years old
  • Amber from the Baltics and the Dominican Republic are 25 to 40 million years old.

So now you have the facts on Amber. This will assist you when purchasing and/or identifying true Amber for your collection - be it a geological or metaphysical one. As always, ask a lot of questions and be well-informed before your purchase. Above all else, have fun!!


Article by Shawn Adler/Kristi Huggins

Posted on March 30, 2009

    (Submitted by: Debbie on December 27, 2012)
  Wow, I had no idea!  (Submitted by: Sarah DB on January 30, 2012)

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