At first glance, amber and copal look very much the same, but the truth is there are many differences between the two:
Copal is tree resin that’s less than 10 million years old and is not fossilized. Amber is fossilized tree resin that’s 10 million years old or older. So copal is a stage between fresh resin and fossilized amber. Leave copal for a few million years in the right conditions and it becomes amber.
There are actually several differences between amber and copal, so let’s explore what makes them so different and how to test if a piece is real amber or copal.
In this blog post, you’ll discover:
- What makes amber and copal so different
- A table of differences between copal and amber
- Easy ways to test for amber and copal
The differences between amber and copal
Here’s a list of differences between amber and copal…
Amber is much older than copal
One of the greatest differences between copal and amber is age.
Amber is tree resin that fell to the ground 10 million years ago or more. Depending on where it’s found, amber can come from the Cretaceous, Jurassic, or Paleogene periods. These periods span from approximately 66 to 252 million years ago. So some amber is over 200 million years old!
Copal is resin that’s been in the ground for less than 10 million years.
Amber is a fossil, copal is still resin
Because amber is so old, it has been through a chemical process called polymerization and turned into a fossil, along with any plants, insects, or debris that got caught in the resin as it dropped from the tree. Amber is much more stable and durable than copal.
Copal starts off as wet resin but has not completed polymerization, so it’s an intermediate stage but is still a resin, not a fossil. Copal is not as stable as amber because it is much younger.
Amber is golden, copal is lighter
Amber usually has a rich, warm color like yellow, orange, or brown. It can also sparkle with sunbursts.
Copal, on the other hand, is often lighter in color, like light yellow or even white.
Amber and copal deposits are in different places
Two of the biggest amber deposits we know of today are in the Baltic region and the Dominican Republic.
Millions of years ago, the conditions in these areas were very different. There were thick sub-tropical forests full of now-extinct coniferous trees that released an immense amount of resin. In the Baltic region, the sea was low and salty, making it the perfect place to preserve all that sticky stuff.
- The Baltic Amber Belt on the south-eastern shores of the Baltic Sea is where Baltic amber is found, and it includes Poland, Russian Oblast Kaliningrad, Lithuania, and Latvia.
- The Dominican Republic in the Caribbean is another significant source of amber. This amber is often called Dominican amber or Dominican blue amber, known for its unique blue hues.
Copal is primarily found in tropical regions across the world, including Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. These regions provide the ideal climate and tree species that produce copal resin.
- In Central and South America, countries like Mexico, Belize, and Colombia are known for copal production.
- African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar are also recognized for their copal sources.
- In Southeast Asia, countries like Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia have notable copal deposits.
Amber is more valuable than copal
As a general rule, amber is more valuable than copal because:
- Amber is a fossil and much older than copal, making it rarer.
- Amber provides a glimpse into the past many millions of years ago, with extinct species trapped inside it.
- People are willing to pay more for amber if amber is what they really want.
The following table compares the average price between copal and amber, based on current market values:
|Copal Price Per Gram (USD)
|Amber Price Per Gram (USD)
|$1 – $10
|$1 – $20
|$10 – $50
|$20 – $100
|$50 – $100+
|$100 – several hundred dollars
Table of differences between amber and copal
The table below is a quick guide to all the differences between amber and copal that I explained in detail above:
|Less than 10 million years old
|10 million years+
|Light yellow, sometimes white
|Golden, but can be different colors
|Central America (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua), South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil), Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Congo, and Cameroon), Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Malaysia), India (particularly in the northeastern states), Caribbean (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and the Middle East (in countries such as Yemen and Oman)
|Baltic Sea region (Poland, Russia (Kaliningrad), Lithuania, Latvia), Dominican Republic, Mexico, Myanmar (Burma), Ukraine, the USA, Canada, Romania, Italy, Lebanon, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, the UK, Morocco, China, Japan, New Zealand
|Usually less valuable
|Usually more valuable
How to tell if a specimen is amber or copal
It’s difficult to tell the difference between copal and amber but here are some things you can do to help you decide what a specimen is:
Because copal is much younger than amber, it has more smell in it.
If you rub the piece hard and fast on the bottom of your palm and it gives off a piney or citrusy smell, then it’s more likely to be copal.
But if you have to put a red-hot pin or needle onto the piece to release some smell, then it’s more likely to be amber.
Put a few drops of acetone on the piece. If you don’t have acetone at hand, try gasoline.
If it becomes tacky or sticky after a 3 seconds, it’s copal. If it evaporates and has no effect on the stone, it’s amber.
Scrape an edge of the stone with a sharp knife.
If it chips away, it’s amber. But if the knife cuts through it, it’s copal.
UV light test
Shine a UV light on the specimen in a dark room to see if it glows.
Amber fluoresces or shines under UV light, emitting a blue or yellow-green glow, while copal doesn’t shine at all.
If the piece shines a color other than blue or yellow-green, you probably have some other crystal or gemstone in your hands.