Types of Amber, Copal & Resin

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

There are many different types of fossilized resin found all over the world. Each deposit has unique chemical constituents but can physically appear almost identical. In some cases it is only through detailed chemical analysis that the geographic origin of the resin can be determined. The process through which resin changes into amber has been dealt with elsewhere within this site. In brief the process is as follows:


It should be noted that although the rate of transition from resin to amber is shown as a linear process, in reality it is variable and not at all a regular transitional mechanism. RESIN Following its secretion the resin immediately begins to lose its original plasticity and harden. The resin is not termed copal because the polymerization has not yet adequately progressed. There are several forms of commercially exploited resin.

This insect secretes a resinous coating onto its body that builds up on the bark of host trees. These large forests have been reduced to sparsely distributed glades. It was used as a varnish and also as part of some photographic development processes. It grows mainly in Arabia and Turkey and like frankincense is used as extremely aromatic incense. Myrrh is the resin product of Commiphora tree. It is sometimes found washed up on beaches or was cut from the animals when whaling existed as an industry. (In some cases the visual appearance of the resin cannot be distinguished from many amber specimens. Kuari gum displays the same qualities of translucence. The gum is commercially collected and turned into lacquer and varnish. Mastic is a resin produced by the tree Pistacia lentiscus. the Boswellia Species.This link provides more information about Kauri Gum. The picture to the left shows harvesting in the process on the island of Indonesia. It is a recently formed resin that is classified as resin or gum rather than copal. It is also used for its medicinal properties. The few remaining trees have acquired state protection under that countries law and may not be felled. It is used commercially as a varnish and type of glue. It purported to induce a soothing atmosphere when used as incense. This was a major source of industrially exploited resin. It is found within the animal's digestive tract and is thought to be the result of infection of which the ambergris is the animal's natural defense mechanism. Kauri Gum was mined and collected on the North Island of New Zealand. The following link gives some interesting information on ancient frankincense trade routes which have recently been identified in the Yemmen. Frankincense is derived from a single tree. The tree grows predominantly in Greece. This sticky mass is then gathered. Dammar is a gum obtained from trees in Malaysia and Pacific islands. breaking easily and prone to fracturing). It is collected and distilled and used as on various string instruments to create suitable friction contact between the bow and string. Arabic gum was farmed in the Middle East during the earlier part of the 20th century. Gum lac sometimes called shellac is not a bi-product of any tree but an excretion of an insect Coccus lacca. It is actually a product found in sperm whales. It is used commercially as a varnish. Click on the picture to move to the site from which it originates. It was secreted by forests of Agathis Australis. collected and refined.Ambergris can be mistaken for a form of resin but in fact is not. . Rosin is the principal resin product of various pine trees. It is used as a fixative in the perfume industry. fracturing and pale yellow colouring as many Baltic amber pieces. It is certainly more fragile.

It is important to note that the kuari gum of New Zealand would appear to have experienced little heat or pressure in its development to date.Allendale Victoria. kuari material that can be over 10. South America . This is because too many external factors affect the rate of molecular linking and consequently a variable rate does not lend its self to a linear time assessment system. consequently it has not matured to the same degree that many other younger deposits have. a task for which copal can in fact be employed. Cynically. In some cases the surface of the copal has fractured and crazed due to the surface shrinkage prompted through the initial evaporation of the turpenes which also begins during this period. Because of this the nomenclature of resin. Copal deposits exist in:             Africa (North. Distinguishing between copal and amber is a contentious issue amongst members of the amber community.Sandarach is a resin farmed in North Africa and extracted from Junipers. (The author has witnessed a piece of resin craze and fracture over a period of 3 months when a large translucent piece weighing more than a Kilogram was displayed in a shop window in full sunlight thus accelerating the entire process with extreme heating and climatic conditions). Colombia. . Sumatra. The word copal comes from the Spanish word copalli which means incense. Polymerization has now progressed significantly through the body of the resin. It is used commercially as a varnish. Philippines. Although these other deposits (Colombian being principal among them) are younger they have acquired the major characteristics of copal which the kuari gum has not. Australia .Mizunami. copal and amber is not an absolute science yet. Congo. it is called copal. Israel. Asia . Baltic. East India.000 years old. Sierra Leone and the Congo. COPAL Copal is a more mature form of resin.Borneo. Indonesia.Brazil. This can be confusing but is reflective of the variable rate of change resin undergoes in different conditions.Damar. Malaya. This material is less than 1000 years old. Japan . whereas the kuari gum is not. it might also be observed that the classification of material against the Resin-Amber continuum is not always applied with the scientific rigor it should receive. Madagascar. Zanzibar. There is no scaling system for assessing polymerization against age. Significant copal deposits exist in Columbia. South America in the Santander province. Kenya. Despite being younger than the New Zealand. East and West) . Tanzania.

United Kingdom.1980) . AMBER Having established the development of resin into copal and looked in some detail at resin and copal I would now like to look at the final product of this process. (Rice . It takes a poor polish but does not break as easily as Gedanite. true amber and retinite. No information available. a name which strictly should only be used to describe Baltic amber. Baltic Region Origin Some of the following entries are less than satisfactory because of the lack of detail. Other titles have been given to ancient resin.1980) Delatynite Referred to in some scientific papers published in the former Soviet Block. This is because of the high levels of succinic acid present within it. Scientists have used succinic acid in part to determine whether a deposit should be called amber. (Rice .The complete transition from resin to amber has to have two additional factors present: heat and pressure. This final stage requires the evaporation of turpenes from within the body of the fossil resin itself. Is much denser and harder than Baltic amber despite being found in associated deposits. even to sub deposits found within the major Baltic deposit. Other fossil resins containing no succinic acid fall under the generic term of retinite. I have however had to rely on old book references as some of these deposits no longer exist or have been long forgotten. Some of these ambers and retinitis are covered in greater detail in Patty Rice’s Book. But amber has been applied and used as a generic description for nearly all of the worlds fossil resin deposits. Allingite A form of fossil resin discovered in Switzerland but extremely rare. Its botanical origin is speculated to be some form of Leguminous tree. It is not common but it has been recorded in several geological narratives on these deposits. It has been found in Highgate and Richmond. Beckerite (Named after one of the owners of the Stanten and Becker amber product company situated in the Baltic). Many scientists refer to Baltic amber as succinite. Copalite or Highgate resin is a term given to an ancient fossil resin found in the London clay. Heat and pressure may support the process of polymerization and turpene evaporation but their full effect upon the formation of amber is not fully understood. Little is known about these deposits or even if it is still found.

(Rice . It is somewhat lighter in colour than typical amber and much more brittle. Glessite (The name originates from the Aesti word for amber.1980) Schraufite Found frequently in association with lignite and jet deposits. (Rice . Jewellers and craft persons do not use this form because of its poor working properties.1980) Krantzite A resin originating within the coal mines of Saxony it is excessively soft and unworkable. Gedano. It will take a polish but fractures too easily.Succinite has up to 2. (Rice . The primary difference between the two varieties is the level of succinic acid present. Gedanite. Succinic acid COOH(CH2)2COOH15 can be present from 3 . Gedano-Succinite Gedano-Succinite has similar properties to Gedanite and was defined though not named by the Scientist.2% present. . Succinite is the correct name for the Baltic amber deposits situated from just off the East coast of England across to the shores of Lithuania. (Rice . These deposits are huge and have been exploited now for hundreds of years. but rather Pinites stroboides. In many ways similar to Beckerite and similarly found within the major Baltic deposits. Glessum) Derived possibly from some form of Angiosperm but being similar to Beckerite in appearance. The deposit is located in the Carpathian Mountains. It also posses much lower levels of succinite and for this reason is not thought to have originated from the tree Pinites succinifer. Helm in 1877.1980) Stantienite (Stantien and Becker the 20th Century producers of amber derived products had this amber type named after one of their founding owners).8% by weight. its physical qualities differentiate it. none.1980).1980) Succinite (Named after Succinic acid which is present within this particular deposit). being harder and also taking a polish. This variety of amber is also extremely friable when compared to other varieties. (Rice . O.Gedanite (Derived from the word Gedanum the old name given to Gdansk in Poland) Gedanite is found within the Baltic amber deposits themselves.

Most records refer to activity up until the 1930’s. The Burmese had mined and dug for the amber which was then sold to Chinese traders who would sell on to crafts people who prized the gem for its qualities and mythical properties. 90% of amber extracted is poor quality and requiring further processing into varnish. and amongst other things was used as a varnish for musical instruments and oil paintings.5cm to 2cm in diameter. more details can be found by taking the link. Photographs from this period show these mines as potential death traps.It is still being mined or gathered extensively throughout the Baltic region. One of the most prolific mines is at the Palmnicken site in Russia which is still working and remains one of the largest producers. Records show that to date most. Amekit This is fairly recent discovery of true amber located in South Eastern Nigeria. It is extracted from lignite beds found on the North Island of New Zealand. . The age of Burmite has been established as Eocene through indicator fossils present in the amber deposits. but none later. Tree origin at this time is unknown. The amber was extracted from the Northern parts of the country. The Cedar Lake deposits were found on the South West lakeside shore as washed and tiny pieces ranging from . The following link to the Amberalchemy web site explains the musical connection in more detail. The author is uninformed about the situation regarding amber mining within this region at the current time. Shellac is also a commercial derivative product of amber. Highly fossiliferous by all accounts containing many examples of both flora and fauna. Cedar Lake in Manitoba is probably one of the most commonly written about sites. Chemawinite Amber from the Cretaceous is rare. The tree origin has been determined as Nummulites Biaritzensis. Non Baltic Region Origin Almashite See the Rumanite entry for this section. but Canada has some remarkable deposits originating from this age. Burmite Burma up until recent years had been China’s major source of amber. Ambrite This is a fossilized resin originating in New Zealand but is not the kuari Gum for which the region is so rightly famous but a true fossil resin that occurs on the North island. The mining shafts were lined with bamboo canes sunk down 10 -15 meters through clay deposits. The source is located in Eocene clay sandstone of the Ameki Foundation which presumably gave this amber its name. Amber also had its ancient uses. The remaining 10% is suitable for jewellers and artisan use. ‘The Mineral Resources of Burma’ published in 1934 noted 200 pits aimed at extracting amber near the village of Shingban.

This fossil resins exact site of origin is unknown but it has been recorded as occurring close to or in the vicinity if Mecca. in the war torn area of Simojovel. Loban Referred to as the 'Balm of Mecca'. It occurs in Savigno.Various scientific expeditions have brought back several hundred pounds of amber from this site. The former lake side shore is now hidden beneath the new water level. Reports have been made of amber beginning to appear on the new higher shoreline. Laid down in successive layers the age of the amber extracted can vary from between 15 . So far these reports have been unsubstantiated. Wales. The tree origin has been established by Poinar as Hymenaea protera.40 million years. probably the world’s second largest deposit. . is following that of the Baltic amber region. Newspaper reports and stories of the abject poverty experienced by the people mining this source make sorry reading. Italy and in the now abandoned mines of Merthyr Tydvil. It is Miocene or older Oligocene in age and of leguminous tree origin. Pigotite This is extremely rare occurrence. In the 1950’s a project was set in place to begin commercial development of the site. United Kingdom. It is an ancient fossil resin which contains traces of aluminum within its chemical makeup. near Bologna. It is commonly referred to as Dominican Republic amber. strangely does not have a unique name but can be called amber because of the presence of Succinic acid though not to the same level as Baltic amber. The venture later failed. The low levels of Succinite make this deposit Retinite and not amber in classification. It some respects it is said to resemble Copalite. Dominican Republic Amber Dominican Republic amber. Mexican Retinite Mexican retinite is mined in the Chiapas region. Hachettite This is a semi transparent fossil resin that has a dull yellow appearance. It has only been found to occur within certain types of granite. Muntenite See the Rumanite entry for this section. Throughout the island are numerous mines which tap into different deposits of amber. This site has now been lost to science because of the flooding of the area.

red. German . The reason for this was the wide range of exotic colours reportedly found within these particular deposits. with shining gold and silver flecks and bluish and greenish tints. Blue. Sadly Sicilian amber is no longer found and amber which was discovered and worked at the beginning of this century or earlier has lost all of its colour and radiance. Rumanite (Almashite and Muntenite) Romania has several scattered sources of amber.North American Amber Amber has been found in numerous places within the United States of America. green being but some of the hues. Rumanite probably originated from a leguminous tree as the presence of succinite has been analysed to be generally less than 5%. Amber has also been recovered from the Cretaceous age at Sibiu in the Carpathians. A famous picture is located at the front of the book. Almashite from Piatra and Muntenite from the Oltenia region. The age of Rumanite from Colti has been established as Oligocene. The mining was nationalised in later years but never proved a commercial success and the mining was officially abandoned. Probably the most famous being that situated around the village of Colti in the Buzau district. of a rich and subdued beauty. Buffum himself wrote: ‘Roumanian amber is usually of a dark-brown hue. It contains no succinic acid and therefore should be called retinite. Simetite Sicily has probably been the source of the most beautiful amber/retinite ever seen. Examples of this deposit are extremely difficult to come by today. If this is a true likeness of amber found and worked in Sicily then the deposit was truly a remarkable one. This would therefore make the correct nomenclature of this deposit retinite and not amber. a water-colour of a Sicilian amber necklace the author encountered around the neck of a peasant girl. Sicilian amber is now practically unknown. Susie Ward Aber’s Web Site contains a detailed breakdown of some of these sources and the reader would be advised to visit this site to learn more about this particular aspect of amber studies. Particles of wood have been found within these amber deposits and have been identified as Sequoioxylon gypsaceum. orange. A subjective assessment but one which was shared by many people who came into contact with this type of retinite in the early part of this century. Visitors to Colti may visit a recently opened museum of amber in the village. Known of and recorded by the Romans the mining probably reached its highest point in the 1900’s. Oligocene in age and again known of by the Romans. Rumanite has had a chequered history as regards its extraction. entitled ‘Tears of the Heliades or Amber as Gem’ the book in partial travelogue style describes Buffum’s first introduction to Sicilian amber and its history. Almashite and Muntentite are both names that have been used to describe amber originating from different geographic regions within Romania. It is speculated that the tree origin is not pine but an angiosperm and could be related to the current day Burseraceae protium. Arnold Buffum wrote a book in 1896 which has entered into amber lore and history. The word Simetite is derived from the Simeto river where the amber is known to have occurred.

Cherry red amber is the distinctive colour of Burmite. PLATT. and many deposits produce amber which vary widely in their colour.co.amber is yellow in various shades. . "Types of Amber. GARRY (1998). In appearance it resembles Copalite but is significantly older and somewhat harder.uk/typesof. Baltic and Dominican Republic amber being two primary examples Baltic amber has such a wide spectrum of colour that a unique language has grown up to describe and identify different types of amber. Valchorite This is amber from the Cretaceous period. Unfortunately this convenient and distinctive factor is not consistent. Dark brown and opaque is typical of retinite from Borneo. but all the colours in the prismatic spectrum are met with in the Sicilian variety’. sometimes running into white or brown. http://www. COLOUR IN AMBER Amber comes in a variety of colours and can be indicative of its geographic origins. amber originating from Burma.gplatt. It is found in Valchov near Boshovice. Click here to review some of the terms used.htm. Copal & Resin". Amber Home.demon.