reprinted with permission by Susan Aber Ward and Garry
by Paleo Direct, Inc.
is not the fossilized, hardened resin that is known as amber, but rather an
immature recent resin. Increasingly, copal is being offered for sale
via the online auction services, fossil dealers' websites, gem shows, and
shops, misrepresented as "amber." The commercial value of
amber is related to its scarcity, age, inclusions of extinct species, and
durability. True fossil amber is MORE VALUABLE than copal.
Unfortunately, some dealers are more preoccupied with high economic returns,
rather than whether or not their resin is fossil or recent. Fortunately, there are tests that can be done to differentiate the
two. The most
deceptive and malicious dealers will try to impress uninformed prospective
buyers as they spout all sorts of seemingly-impressive but irrelevant
scientific garbage, ignoring the simple facts and obvious age differences in
amber versus copal. These fraudulent dealers will attempt to convince
naive and trusting buyers that copal IS amber when this couldn't be further
from the truth.
warning to buyers of COPAL WHO THINK THEY ARE GETTING AMBER - unlike true fossil amber, copal will craze
deeply on the surface as early as only a few years when the volatiles (turpenes)
the original resin evaporate.
It is NOT
rare to find spectacular types and concentrations of inclusions in copal -
it IS rare to find the same in true fossil amber. If the same
inclusions were found in true fossil amber, the value of the specimen would
be exceedingly higher in price than the same specimen in copal. The
problem is, you cannot even compare inclusions because most of the
life-forms found in true fossil amber are now EXTINCT whereas the types of
inclusions found in copal are MODERN and still living today! Often, naive
collectors fall victim to dishonest fossil dealers and are suckered into a
higher price for a piece of copal that is loaded with fascinating inclusions
as they confuse the rarity of these inclusions with genuine fossil
amber. Despite what appears to be valuable, copal is worth only a
small fraction of what an equal specimen in genuine fossil amber would sell
an immature and controversial resin, is a much younger form of tree
resin compared to the prehistoric nature of true fossil amber. Columbia,
South America has extensive deposits of copal which is frequently sold as
amber. CARBON 14
TESTS UNDERTAKEN ON COLOMBIAN
COPAL HAVE SHOWN IT IS LESS
THAN 250 YEARS OLD!
Madagascar and Kenya also have highly fossiliferous copal mines. Their
age is likely to be roughly the same as the Colombian deposits, if not
are no known true fossil amber deposits in Colombia so if a piece of
"amber" is being sold with
a source of "Colombia", it is COPAL and is NOT REAL FOSSIL
There are several types of
copal from different geographic regions and trees other than Colombia.
Zanzibar copal from East Africa was possibly produced by the Trachylobium
verrucasum (also known as Hymenaea verrucosa), while Kauri copal from New
Zealand was produced by the Kauri pine, Agathis australis. Sierra
Leone and Congo copal are both from a leguminous tree, Copaifera
guibourthiana. Manila copal, produced by trees in the genus Agathis,
is found in Indonesia and the Philippines. Dammar resin was produced
by dipterocarpaceous trees in southern Asia, i.e., Malaya and Sumatra.
Various tropical trees, such as Hymenaea courbaril or Hymenae protea,
produce Colombian and Brazilian copal. Major deposits of copal are
produced from tropical legume and araucarian trees (conifers indigenous
today to South America and Australia) and are found in tropical or wet
temperate regions where these resin producing trees still exist. Large
pieces of Colombian copal have been illegally imported into Poland and
then sold as Baltic material.
Tests to Identify COPAL VERSUS AMBER
There are a number of simple tests
that can be carried out on amber to check its authenticity. More
sophisticated and complex tests are possible but they require access to
laboratory equipment. These more complex tests include Refraction
Index, Precise Specific Gravity and Melting Point. The
latest and most decisive contribution to the chemistry of succinite and
other fossil resins has been made by pyrolysis gas chromatography in
combination with mass spectrometry. This technique has been used
create the first exclusive chemical classification of fossil resins.
For the layperson with no special
equipment, the following eight tests are adequate. When examining a
specimen you should try at least 3 of the following methods detailed
here. If the item in
question fails any one of the tests, it could well mean the piece is
not true amber.
(Test 1) HARDNESS.
Amber has a hardness on the Moh’s
scale in the region of 2 - 3. Using appropriate scratch sticks it
should be reasonably straightforward to test the sample under question.
(Test 2) HOT NEEDLE.
Heat a needlepoint in a flame until
glowing red and then push the point into the sample for testing. With
copal, the needle melts the material quicker than amber and omits a light
fragrant odor. Amber when tested, does not melt as quickly as the
copal and omits sooty fumes.
(Test 3) SOLUBILITY.
Copal will dissolve in
acetone. This test can be done by dispensing the acetone from an
eyedropper onto a clean surface of the test specimen. Place one drop
on the surface of the test piece and allow to evaporate, then place a second
drop on the same area. Copal will become tacky while amber will remain
unaffected by contact with acetone.
(Test 4) UV
Copal under a short-wave UV light
shows hardly any color change. Amber fluoresces a pale shade of blue.
(Test 5) FRICTION
Rub the specimen vigorously on a
soft cloth. True amber may omit a faint resinous fragrance but copal
may actual begin to soften and the surface become sticky. Amber will
also become heavily charged with static electricity and will easily pick up
small pieces of loose paper.
(TEST 6) FLOTATION (Specific
Mix 23gms of standard table salt
with 200ml of lukewarm water. Stir until completely dissolved.
Amber should float in such a mixture and some copals together with various
plastics will sink. Regular amber often has a specific gravity of 1.05
to 1.10 (where 1 is the same as water). Copal looks similar, but has a
lower specific gravity of 1.03 to 1.08. A specific gravity of above
1.0 will cause the object to sink in fresh water.
(TEST 7) INCLUSIONS
Infrequently amber contains Flora
or Fauna inclusions. Correctly identifying the trapped Insect or plant
should be an excellent indicator of a piece’s authenticity. Most
inclusions from ancient amber are of species that are now extinct or
significantly changed. Frequently present in Baltic amber are tiny
stellate hairs which are release by oak buds during their early growth and
some time after,
(TEST 8) KNIFE CUT
With a sharp knife try to shave off
a tiny piece of the amber from an unobtrusive section. Real amber fractures
and splinters. plastic and polymers actual cut and tiny shaved pieces can be
removed without any splintering of the material.
PAGE 3 - "Fake Amber Fossil Inclusions"