The study of amber / Forgeries / Different types of forgeries

I have divided the forgeries in the following categories

  • Copal sold as amber
  • Partially real amber whit inclusions
  • Polymer counterfeits and treated amber sold as real amber

1. Copal sold as amber

First, it must be said that this is a much debated area! Copal is young amber (with a scientific language called subfossil resin). When can something be called copal and when is it amber?

Experts have estimated the copal to be between ~30 years and 1.6 million years (Poinar(1999),p.151), this is based on the different geological locations, chemical and physical properties and its inclusions. Collectors and commercial dealers often sell copal with an age of several million years to well over ten million years. 

E.g. David Grimaldi believed claims of 2 million year old copal in Africa and South America to be suspect. "The oldest copal deposit, from Mizunami, Japan, is approximately 33,000 years old" (Grimaldi, 1996, p.16). He stated copal deposits from Colombia ..."are sold to amateur collectors as 'Pliocene amber' (about two million years old), even though carbon-14 dating indicates it is only several hundred years old, like all the other Hymenaea copal deposits" (Grimaldi, 1996, p.19)

Fakes: Copal is often brighter or much darker than amber, copal often has a higher number of inclusions than amber - but always compare the piece whit the type the seller claims it to be. 
Pictures: These photos are old and deliberately anonymized - it must be explicitly said that there have been made no tests on these pieces and to assess the authenticity is up to the viewer. The only reason for these pieces is highlighted is to focus on the critical angle of purchasing amber.
Identify Copal: Take a few drops of acetone (fingernail polish remover) or alcohol on the piece; amber will not/slovly be affected by the solvent, but copal's surface will become sticky. In the vicinity of a flame will copal melt, while amber will merely soften soft and become black.

2. Partially real amber with inclusions
(This is often the most difficult to determine!)
This is a piece of real amber that have either been split, cut or drill a hole in, then the inclusion is placed in the cavity and the room is filled with polymer. The largest part of the surface consists of genuine amber, that makes it very difficult to determine and detect the forgery!
These fakes are almost consistently made to cheat with rare inclusions. This could, e.g., be: a snail (these are usually between 1-4 mm), a lice or ticks (1-3 mm), a fether or other rare inclusions (often a species or an inclusion that is atypical or rare for the particular type of amber).
FakeWasps cast in plastic and placed on top of a split piece of Baltic amber
How to detect: coming soon
3. Polymer counterfeits and treated amber
(The absolute most common)
These types of counterfeits are often poorly made and relatively easy to verify. A few of the different types:
  • Pressed amber: smaller pieces are pressed together to form larger pieces under heat and high pressure. Typically used to make jewelry.
  • Oil Boiled amber: not clear amber which is cooked in oil and thus becomes clear. These "fakes" (if sold as natural amber) often contain some flat reflective discs. Typically used for jewelry.
  • Different types of polymer: made for jewelry and forgeries of inclusions. A big advantage is always if you know the real type of amber's physical appearance, the different variations in the type, and then it differences between other types. But in the end, common sense is probably your best defense - if it's too good to be true then do not buy it. 

What can help on the road to discover polymer fakes from pictures:

  • If an inclusion is unusually large (for the type), looking fresh, is perfectly located in the piece (a scorpion is located with finely curled tail, etc.), or maybe too many strong colors. It is always a good idea to compare the inclusions with other inclusions from the "real" type of amber. Use your common sense and compare it whit other inclusions' perservation.
  • Have the amber a strange color (for the type), extremely clear whit a few perfect inclusions, unusual surface or interior, cracks that can confirm or disprove its authenticity etc.
  • Always compare it with other pieces of the same type and ask "How is this different?"
There is a wide variety of ways to know the difference between the succinic and polymer! How to detect: Click here to get to the list.

Pictures of fakes: I have as far as possible ensured me that the person who sent me the pictures and gave me the permission, also are the legal owner of the copyright. I apologize for any mistakes that might have happened in this process.

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I (Anders L. Damgaard) am the C.C. holder of all images, graphics and text on this page /CC BY-NC-ND 3.0/ read more at this page on the section: C.C. (Creative Commons)