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What is this stuff?

I have a friend who grew up in Sudan. She traded with the nomads
there and accumulated a lot of what she calls amber. I’m not sure
about it being amber. These are large beads about the size of a
golf ball. Some of the beads are white, others are red and some are
a buttery yellow. All of them are opaque and the colors are soft.
She asked me if I knew what they were and how much something like
that would sell for. They are very pure with no inclusions or
cracks. I know that at least one of you wise Orchidians can enlighten us.
Thanks in advance. Christine

i think they are opals similar like mexican fire opal but lesser
lusture and comes in whitish to deep brownish tones and yellowish
colour also


Christine - I have seen beads like this. What I saw was marketed as
amber and fits your description to a t. I also seem to recall seeing
a test for amber printed on the list a while back. Perhaps you might
check the archives and apply that test to what your friend has. It
seems to me one test was a density dest and the other involved seeing
if the amber would melt.


Amber is a petrified tree resin that should emit an aromatic aroma
when burned. (I use a red hot needle inserted inside a bead hole) It
is also a great conductor of static electricity so rub is on your
pants and see if it raises a scrap of paper. It should also float.
The texture can range from waxy to shiny, but should feel warm in the
hand and lighter in weight than comparable glass or stone. Amber
naturally occurs in red, yellow, whitish, blue, green and lavender
tones depending on its source of origin. Im not aware of amber from
the Sudan but I’m not up on all origins…Of course trading can cause
item to travel far and wide.

Good Luck!!
Gianna Cagliano
Lynn’s Jewelry

I have some beads that fit this description. They were sold to me
as “copal”, which I understand is like unripe amber - tree resin
that’s on its way to being fossilized but not there yet.


I used to live in Kenya and saw these amber balls a lot, in several
different colors as you describe. I asked about them once and was
told they were also called “tree amber” and not formed like the
clear amber but instead were made from pitch from trees, heated and
shaped, ie more modern creations. Most are opaque. Donna in VA

Christina - These are traditional beads worn by various tribes of
West and North Africa, primarily. They can vary in size from quite
small (often woven into the hair) to fairly enormous, way bigger
than golf balls, and compared to fossilized amber, quite dense and
heavy. They may be Copal, which is defined as a “young” amber,
actually collected from living trees, although some of it has been
found in fossilized form.Copal comes from several parts of Africa,
including Tanzania, Mozzambique, and Madagascar in the east , along
the west coast from Sierra Leone to Angola, plus Niger and Zaire.

Beads out of the Sudan, and most other areas, are generally a fat
donut shape, while from Mauritania, you may also find diamond-shaped
beads, often cross-drilled, point to point, as well as straight
through the center. It’s similar in shape to the Ojo de Dios symbol
(Eye of God). Smaller, barrel-shaped beads are also seen. Most are in
shades of buttery golden yellow to deep red- brown, with a matte,
waxy-looking surface. Some can be red. I’ve even collected some
gorgous - and very pricey - parrot-green, but only in small beads
-and I’m not sure they couldbe classified as copal, anyway. .I’m
still sleuthing them. Personally, I have never seen or heard of

Copal Amber beads are virtually synonomous with the wealthier tribes
of the Sahara, worn symbolically to denote marital status, wealth,
even tribal mythic beliefs: The Dogon and Songhai of Mali, the
nomadic Fulani ( Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, etc.), the
Guedra of Mauritania, the nomadic Berber tribes of the Maghreb
(Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, western Libya), the dowry necklaces of
the Harer of Somalia.

Just as the enterprising Venetians of centuries past duplicated
widely - coveted carnelian and other stones in glass for the bead
trade, amber substitutes have been traded in Africa. So has real
amber from the Baltic, for that matter.

Like so much of the authentic antique trade and tribal beads coming
out of Africa, the old material can be pretty scarce these days.
Several years ago, during their economic boom years, the Japanese
were buying up all the copal amber trade beads they could get their
hands on, and the traders’ prices would double, then double again,
within 2-3 months. Things simmered down, but I rarely see it offered
for sale anymore - that is, the real stuff, and it can be pricey.
What I do see, seems to be some kind of resin, or maybe a
reconstituted amber/resin material, especially in the case of the
cherry reds, some of it opaque, some transparent. Even if they aren’t
real amber, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t real tribal beads.
Manmade substitutes from Europe and Russia have been traded there for
over a century.

If you are curious, I recommend Angela Fisher’s Africa Adorned
(1984, Abrams Publishers). It is sort of the bible on the subject,
with gorgeous photos.

Margery Epstein

Those sound like reconstructed amber. I think its called Amberiod.
Or = it could be Pit amber which is mined.

Good Luck