If a hot needle made a small dent, and you can see tiny crumbs (use high magnification) where you jammed the needle in - then these are fairly new (since 1980s) polyester beads, faceted and beat up to look like old "cherry amber" Bakelite (phenolic resin) beads. Try this again and make sure the needle is red-hot. If the beads are phenolic resin, the needle will do nothing but make a small dark burn spot.
Note that "cherry amber" is a term most often applied to the color that many phenolic resins turn, either from air exposure, or heat treatment.
To rule out the possibility that they are actual old cherry amber Bakelite beads - do the following:
1) get some 10% household ammonia and lightly wet a q-tip. Then rub on a bead in an inconspicuous spot (assumes surface dirt is already removed). If the q-tip turns mustard yellow, you probably have phenolic resin.
2) since not all phenolic resins will test positive with ammonia, also take one bead and run under very hot water until the bead is heated up - or soak in a glass of hot water. Then smell the bead. If it is phenolic, you will detect the medicinal odor of phenol. If it is as I suspect, a newer polyester resin, it will smell like styrene - the smell you get when burning a plastic foam cup or container. Get one to use for comparison.
3) If you need more help, please send me a private message with your email and I'll send you a one page test summary with my reamer method.
4) If all else fails, you can send me one and I'll be happy to ID it.
PS "African amber" is a term currently used in the bead trade to describe all sorts of imitation amber - I've seen phenolic resin, polyester resin, polystyrene, acrylic, dyed vegetable ivory and dyed horn all called "African amber". The other marketing term used is "copal amber" - although most of these are various plastics, there are some beads made of copal that may be also referred to as "copal amber". I'm not an expert on the various copals and ambers (processed or pressed or natural) - this is another whole area of study...but all of the copals and amber I've tested emit a pleasant pine odor when hot needled or reamed so they are really easy to tell from the plastics.
Join my Yahoo Group, and read the two PDFs that give reliable advice on identifying and testing amber and "amber."