There are two different varieties of resin known as Amber.
The first is Baltic Amber:
The Baltic region is home to the largest known deposit of amber, called Baltic amber or succinite. It dates from 44 million years ago (during the Eocene epoch). It has been estimated that these forests created more than 100,000 tons of amber.
The term “Baltic amber” is generic, so amber from the Bitterfeld brown coal mines in Saxony (Eastern Germany) goes under the same name. Bitterfeld amber was previously believed to be only 20–22 million years old (Miocene), but a comparison of the animal inclusions revealed that it is most probably genuine Baltic amber that has only been redeposited in a Miocene deposit. Other sources of Baltic amber have been listed as coming from Poland and Russia.
Because Baltic amber contains about 8% succinic acid, it is also termed succinite.
It was thought since the 1850s that the resin that became amber was produced by the tree Pinites succinifer, but research in the 1980s came to the conclusion that the resin originates from several species. More recently, it has been proposed, on the evidence of Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy (FTIR) analysis of amber and resin from living trees, that conifers of the familySciadopityaceae were responsible. The only extant representative of this family is the Japanese umbrella pine, Sciadopitys verticillata.
Numerous extinct genera and species of plants and animals have been discovered and scientifically described from inclusions in Baltic amber fossils. Baltic amber includes the most species-rich fossil insect fauna discovered to date.
Gecko in Copal, Madagascar Cape d’Ambre
The second form of Amber is Copal resin, of both modern and sub fossil origin, widely distributed throughout the tropics.
Copal is a name given to tree resin from the copal tree Protium copal (Burseraceae) that is particularly identified with the aromatic resins used by the cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica as ceremonially burned incense and other purposes. More generally, the term copal describes resinous substances in an intermediate stage of polymerization and hardening between “gummier” resins and amber. The word copal is derived from the Nahuatl language word copalli, meaning “incense“.
To the pre-Columbian Maya and contemporary Maya peoples it is known in the various Mayan languages as pom (or a close variation thereof), although the word itself has been demonstrated to be a loanword to Mayan from Mixe–Zoquean languages.
Copal is still used by a number of indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America as an incense, during sweat lodge ceremonies and Sacred Mushroom ceremonies. It is available in different forms. The hard, amber-like yellow copal is a less expensive version. The white copal, a hard, milky, sticky substance, is a more expensive version of the same resin.
Copal resin from Hymenaea verrucosa is also found in East Africa and is used in incense. By the 18th century, Europeans found it to be a valuable ingredient in making a good wood varnish. It became widely used in the manufacture of furniture and carriages. It was also sometimes used as a picture varnish. By the late 19th and early 20th century varnish manufacturers in England and America were using it on train carriages, greatly swelling its demand.
In 1859 Americans consumed 68 percent of the East African trade, which was controlled through the Sultan of Zanzibar, with Germany receiving 24 percent. The American Civil War and the creation of the Suez Canal led to Germany, India and Hong Kong taking the majority by the end of that century.
East Africa apparently had a higher amount of subfossil copal, which is found one or two meters below living copal trees from roots of trees that may have lived thousands of years earlier. This subfossil copal produces a harder varnish. Subfossil copal is also well-known from New Zealand (Kauri gum), Japan, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Madagascar. It often has inclusions and is sometimes sold as “young amber”. Copal can be easily distinguished from genuine amber by its lighter citrine colour and its surface getting tacky with a drop of acetone or chloroform.
Insects in Baltic Amber