What is 'copal'?
The Aztec word "copal" (Nahuatl: copalli) refers to all tree resins -old or young- that have been employed as incense over the centuries.
Consequently, from this etymological point of view, it turns most ambers -also the 'famous' Baltic- into Copal, because they are used for incence even today.
But for lack of a better word, in modern times "Copal" is used to refer to semi-fossilized resins or sub-fossil amber. Basically, "copal" is "young amber" and "amber" is "old copal". Respecting these commonly accepted rules, we want to reserve the word "amber" for 'really' ancient tree resins and "copal" for more recent ones. Therefore, we use the term "copal" for Colombian amber
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Where is the age limit?
There is much theory and commercial interest. Some set the limit at 20 million years, others earlier.
We have no dates or specific geological information on Colombian copal. Because of it's color and hardness, some scientists believe it may be Pliocene or Pleistocene, probably about 2 to 3 million years old, in some regions even up to 16 million years old, but in others much, much younger (Santander) and may only count with some thousands or hundreds of years. Besides the age difference, the basic fact is that copal is softer than what is commonly known as "real amber" since it has not gone through a timely extended stage of polymerization.
Nevertheless, even if we assume that Colombian Copal is only 2 to 3 million years old or younger, it still is extremely important to study biodiversity, biogeography, ecology and other related subjects based on its inclusions. Others are aware of its use for jewelry or industrial purposes.
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