AskDefine | Define copal

Dictionary Definition

copal n : a brittle aromatic resin used in varnishes

User Contributed Dictionary



, from copalli


  1. a resinous exudation from various tropical trees that is collected from living trees or dug from the ground as a fossil, that when hard must be rendered soluble in alcohol and other organic solvents by heating, and that is used chiefly in making varnishes and printing ink

Extensive Definition

Copal is a type of resin produced by plant or tree secretions, particularly identified with the forms of aromatic tree resins used by the cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica as a ceremonially burned incense, as well as for a number of other purposes. More generically, the term copal is now also used to describe resinous substances in an intermediate stage of polymerization and hardening between more viscous and 'gummy' 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 (proto-)Mixe-Zoquean languages.
It is sometimes likened to, or substituted for, amber and put in jewellery.
Copal is still used by a number of indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America as an incense, used during cermonies such as the "sweat lodge" ceremony. 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.



  • U Mut Maya VI
copal in German: Copal (Baumharz)
copal in Spanish: Copal
copal in Esperanto: Kopalo
copal in French: Copal
copal in Indonesian: Kopal
copal in Italian: Copale
copal in Polish: Kopal
copal in Portuguese: Copal
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