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 Travelers throughout Southern Arabia and much of Africa often find in traditional marketplaces large blocks of fossilized yellow resin and have mistaken them for amber. Amber, also a fossil resin (called succinite), is derived from fossilized pine sap and is usually associated with the east Baltic littoral. This amber, of late Tertiary date, has been found far from its home in European, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian archaeological contexts. In the Middle East, it has come to be confused with another fossilized resin called copal quarried from sources in East Africa. This copal, fossilized Trachylobium resin from the Leguminoisea family has not been studied in detail. Investigations to date suggest it is quarried from Mozambique or Madagascar. It turns up at Zanzibar as a transhipment point. In the market places of southern Oman and Yemen, large blocks of this resin (including insect filled pieces) can be seen for sale.

 Infrared spectocrospy has determined the critical components of amber vs. copal and a clear distinction can be obtained. Raw blocks of copal have been recovered from archaeological context. Divers on a sixteenth century wreck just west of Yenbo in the northern Red Sea brought up blocks intended for sale and further workmanship [ IT-003]. A statuette of Assurnasirpal II from Nimrud (ca. 870 B.C.) originally thought to be amber (Olmstead 1938) most likely is part of the copal trade. Beads from Pharoah Tutankamun's tomb (1351 B.C.), originally identified as amber, are also copal (Quiring 1954). The earliest reported copal bead comes from the site of Tell Asmar (ancient Eshunna) in upper Tigris/Diyala Mesopotamia. Belonging to the Sargonic period (ca. 2200 B.C.), it was found in a modest burial. Originally identified as amber, it turned out to be copal upon detailed analysis. The authors concluded it came from the East African source, making it one of the longest travel tales from the third millennium B.C.! (see Meyer, Todd and Beck 1991).

 Even earlier copal pieces may have come from Late Pre-Dynastic tombs at Nagada in Upper Egypt (ca. 3500 B.C.). Resin Lumps were collected from a number of wealthy graves by Petrie in the late nineteenth century, but the samples have never been analyzed (see fossil incense) (Baumgartel 1970, Zarins 1996).

 Is there any textual evidence to the trade of this copal? Material mentioned as kankamon in the 2econd century AD Periplus, could be interpreted as copal originating in East Africa. The term may come from a third millennium BC Akkadian term ga-na-ga-tum from Ebla (The Sumerian SIM.GIG) and translated as kanaqtum in the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1800 B.C.) and the later Arabic kunnuq (Groom 1981:251.) (See Casson 1989: 124-5).

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