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Roger Weller, geology instructor       

Amber and Copal
Amber Hughes
Historical Geology
Spring 2006

                               Amber vs. Copal


In between 30-90 million years ago, sap flowed from trees trapping small insects, or plants-structures with in a sticky tomb. Over the years the tree sap fossilized, still holding the small insects within it.  Amber is the end product. Amber is a semi-precious stone used in all sorts of jewelry, from necklaces to rings.  Amber is a lovely orange-yellow-red color; with of course little bugs and intricate plant parts trap inside, making this stone truly unusual.

(Photo by R.Weller/Cochise College)

Amber isn’t truly a real gemstone because it hasn’t mineralized, but is still considered one because of it unusualness. Usually, amber takes about two years to completely solidify. It is possible to melt amber, which produces an “oil of amber.”  If dissolved in oil of turpentine or in linseed oil, it forms "amber varnish".  If the oil that is produced from amber is rubbed on cloth, it will become electric and will attract bits of paper.


(Photo by R.Weller/Cochise College)


            The name descends from Arabic, but most likely through Spanish.  The word referred to the word is ambergris. Ambergris is an animal substance that closely resembles the color of amber. Occasionally a lovely type of amber is found in the Dominican Republic, which is called blue amber.


3 Colors in One


Natural Dominican Amber Colors


Amber is most often found in Eastern Asia and North America. Depending on where the amber is found, different flora and fauna fossils will be will be found in it.
Geographic East Asia.
East Asia



Phytoplancton bloom in the southern half of the Baltic Sea (July 3, 2001) 
Phytoplankton bloom in the southern half of the Baltic Sea (July 3, 2001)


            Amber is not only a beautiful gemstone, but a very helpful tool to geologist, paleontologists and history in general. Fossils are used to find evidence of prehistoric life.  Amber just happens to be an especially pleasant fossil to study and any kind of scientist is able to study the contents.

            Another product from tree resin is called copal. Copal is often used as a type of incense in a few different cultures, used in rituals and ceremonies. Deposits of copal may be found in; Africa (North, East and West) - Borneo, Congo, Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Asia – Damar, Australia - Allendale Victoria, Baltic, East India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan – Mizunami, Malaya, Philippines, South America - Brazil, Colombia, Sierra Leone and the Congo, and Sumatra.  

            Today, the science of amber and copal is still being studied. We still aren’t sure of either’s complete structure or science. Regardless, our Earth has given us a beautifully unique gemstone and a pleasant smelling type of incense. Both are similar, using heat and pressure to be created. The only difference is time, contents, and uses.

                                                          To a Piece of Amber

‘Limpid lump with light refulgent.
Tawny tinted, cold yet warm,
Whence has come your mystic beauty,
Your alluring wonderous charm?
Are you blood of Forest Monarch
Slain by the Storm King's might,
Clotted in Earth’s cold bosom
Through ages of Arctic night?
Or the tears of Druid Maiden
For a lover found untrue?
Tell me the tragic story
That is hid in the heart of you.
Are you frozen sunshine,
Chilled by a world unkind,
Or the golden pearl of an Elfin Earl
Whose castle none may find?

I am the blood of Forest Monarch,
I am tears of a Druid Maid
I am congealed sunshine
From the haunts where Elfins played.
I am all of these and more than these,
For a token of love am I,
To be worn next the heart of your true love
To prove her constancy.
An amulet ‘gainst grief and pain,
’Gainst sorrow, sin and care,
For none may harm where I cast my charm
O’er beauty pure and rare.’

Walter S. Park 




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