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I have been doing some recent work with Columbian Amber/Copal and thought I would throw this out for a general discussion.  It is fun, if nothing else

 

Most of my life I have believed that there is no difference between Copal and Amber.  I know chemically there is no difference between the two. Amber/Copal from the same plant from different time periods, even millions of years apart are identical.  Fossil resin's molecular make-up is mostly carbon and hydrogen atoms that form hexagonal rings. Molecular bonding between the rings increases over time (called polymerization, as in modern epoxy resins), and the tacky resin becomes hard.  For all practical purposes, the hardened resin is a "plastic".  Exactly when the resin becomes amber/copal, or a fossil, is not definable by any scientific criteria. I would like to see if others have the same thoughts.

 

I am also attaching a picture of the best piece in my collection.  "Best" meaning my favorite. 

 

This is one of my favorite articles.

 

The following is by Dr. Robert E. Woodruff

Emeritus Taxonomist,

Florida State Collection of Arthropods

Resins are produced by many trees and other plants; Frankincense of the Bible is one of these. Peach and Cherry trees produce resins that children often use as chewing gum. No botanist or paleontologist knows when resins were first produced, but we know it was probably more than 100 million years ago. They are produced to heal wounds, just as our blood coagulates to seal injuries.

There is no doubt that these resins have been produced continuously since they first occured. Because they are affected little by the elements, resins are similar to their original form. Only a few volatile oils are eliminated by time and burial (e.g., in marine sediments that are 3000 ft. elevation now). We use Canadian Balsam as the most permanent sealant for cover slips on microscope slides.

Unfortunately, no one can presently date these resins by any definitive tests. Because they have been continuously produced, there are no drastic changes from one geological period to another. We can infer age, if we know the age of a sedimentary deposit in which they are found (this would be a minimum, because older material could have been redeposited).

There are those (including several scientists) that insist that the word amber must be reserved for certain age resins. With such a continuous resin production, and no clear dating, it could all be called amber. It is a semantic argument, & those who sell Baltic, Dominican, & Mexican "amber" do not want to use the term for any that might be more recent. Obviously a commercial bias is present. They prefer to use the term "copal".

Strictly speaking, the Aztec word "copal" is used for all resins! They do not distinguish the Miocene deposits from southern Mexico from the recent resin collected for incense today. Therefore it should not be redefined to fit some new arbitrary definition based on age. It is considered lower class only because of these commercial interests.

We have Cretaceous amber (at least 65 million years old) and much Oligocene & Miocene amber, as well as Pliocene (Africa), and many others. We have no dates or specific geological information on Colombian amber. Because of it's color and hardness, we believe it may be Pliocene or Pleistocene (as is some of the Dominican amber from Cotui). Studies underway may clarify the deposits, but evidence suggests that there may be varying geological formations & ages.

Mankind (depending on the anthropologist's definition thereof) has been on earth only 3-5 million years. Certainly the Olduvai specimens are fossils (both men & animals) and extremely valuable for study of human evolution. If we assume the Colombian amber is this recent, it still has extremely important value for those studying the fossils. Studies of biodiversity, biogeography, ecology, and evolution, all benefit from the scientific description of these amber fossils.

Age is relative, the old man said, but old is not necessarily better. To call the Colombian material anything other than amber is a misnomer! Logically, we should just call everything "resin", with qualifying adjectives of origin or geological formation. I doubt that this would be acceptable to most "amber" dealers!

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I agree that there is a continuum between amber and copal. Maybe they can be defined by degree of polymerization that is manifest as hardness. Give them a hardness test. Also, I think that finding the age is more important than saying it is copal or amber. For more info about this debate see this Mindat post: http://www.mindat.org/mesg-100-286019.html

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45 minutes ago, DPS Ammonite said:

I think that finding the age is more important than saying it is copal or amber.

I agree 100%.  It is more meaningful.  List the age, location, and if identifiable, the species of plant it came from.

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This same concept can be applied to all fossils. Exactly where to start calling a specimen a fossil is a paradox, since it is a gradual process.

 

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How about a diamond compared to graphite, same material, only more cross-linked in a diamond.

 

Brent Ashcraft

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It all goes back to high school science.

 

As in any scientific paper, one defines a term and then is consistent when using that definition.  The terms amber, copal, resin, old orangey-coloured tree stuff, ...it doesnt really matter.

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23 hours ago, Canadawest said:

It all goes back to high school science.

 

As in any scientific paper, one defines a term and then is consistent when using that definition.  The terms amber, copal, resin, old orangey-coloured tree stuff, ...it doesnt really matter.

That about sums it up.

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i thought copal was  a resinous exudate rich in terpenoids,with mono-and sesquiterpenes in the volatile fraction,

principally derived from the Fabacea,Bursera,Protium and Pinus.

But that's just me

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On 9/16/2016 at 2:39 PM, doushantuo said:

i thought copal was  a resinous exudate rich in terpenoids,with mono-and sesquiterpenes in the volatile fraction,

principally derived from the Fabacea,Bursera,Protium and Pinus.

But that's just me

That would be one definition (if you believe everything in Wikipedia), although not in any scientific literature, but that would then classify even 200 yer old resin as Amber not copal because the terpeniods have quite extensively changed.  The species of plant is also not considered by most scientists to be a factor.  You are refering to the origional word from Mesoamerica, refering to the resin substance which was burned in anciently, through modern times.  It is similar to frankincense (Boswellia resin), burned in  the Middle-East.

 

Many of the major amber deposits have had their tree source identified and also fit the list you provided for "copal".  They are:

 

Country / Species Family

 

Alaska / Agathis Undetermined plant family

 

Baltic / Pinites succinifer

 

Burma / Nummulites biaritzensis

 

Canada - Cedar Lake / Agathis Undetermined plant family

 

Dominican Republic / Hymenaea protera

 

Germany - Bitterfield / Cupressospermum saxonicum (Now disputed)

 

Mexico - Chiapas / Hymenaea Undetermined plant family

 

Middle East / Agathis Undetermined plant family

 

Romania - Colti / Sequoioxylon gypsaceum

 

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Errr,i know my phytochemistry.Dunno where you got the Wikipedia idea

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I was not trying to offend you.  I apologize for that.   Your statement just had wording from Wikipedia so I made an inaccurate assumption.  I am not saying that is what where you got the statement.  Again, not trying to offend anyone.  I too understand chemistry quite well, and have also been in the process of analyzing both "amber" and "copal" samples and have found very little difference chemically when the same genus of flora are used for the sample.  Some of my colleagues and I are working on a paper about just that.

 

Thank you for your comments doushantuo.  They do add to the discussion.

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