A conference held on the 12th/13th April at the Student Union Auditorium, University of Sheffield.

Review by Jenny Moore

This conference was jointly organised by myself and Neil Rhodes to examine issues relating to fire in the palaeoenvironment. Our original idea was to have a multi-disciplinary conference with speakers researching fire from geological, geographical, archaeological and ethnographic perspectives. We had intended devoting the first day to paper and poster presentations and the second day to workshops dealing with specific issues relating to fire in the environment.

From our initial invitations to approximately 16 speakers, we were overwhelmed with offers of papers and posters, all of an extremely high quality. There were 29 presentations and so we continued oral presentations into the second day. The opening address was given by Prof. Kevin Edwards of the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, here at Sheffield. The conference was arranged around four discrete sessions: pre-Quaternary fire, charcoal taphonomy and methodology, case studies and anthropogenic fire activity. Our proposed workshops became thematic lunches on Sunday, with separate groups discussing two topics: taphonomy and methodology, and the archaeology and palaeoecology of fire.

The conference attracted a number of international delegates. Four people travelled from America and Canada to give presentations and there was a strong European contingent. It was clear both from enquiries we received and the comments of delegates, that were it not for travel funding constraints worldwide, there would have been a far greater number of people attending the meeting.

The multi-disciplinary nature of the conference, with delegates from diverse fields of research, could have meant that there was little discussion, but in fact the reverse occurred. Delegates were extremely interested in finding out what was happening in fields of research other than their own. Much of the work presented was effectively 'work in progress', with speakers actively inviting comments. The whole tone was very friendly and informative, the general feeling being that such a conference was long overdue.

It is perhaps slightly unusual to write a review of a conference you helped organise, although I think I am more critical than an independent reviewer. The quality of the paper and poster presentations was outstanding and this was reflected in the highly productive discussions which took place. Even more significant, the thematic lunchtime discussions were attended by most of the delegates. Those who had to catch trains or planes expressed regret at not being able to stay. Normally, at the end of an intensive event such as this, most people want to slope off home, or to the nearest pub!

Neil and I set up this conference without any financial support and we would have been unable to hold it here in Sheffield without the assistance of the Sheffield University Archaeological Society. Their Chairperson, Mike Anderton, deserves considerable praise for his efforts in every respect. Clearly, from the comments we received, such an event was long overdue. Hopefully others will ensure that the themes raised here will be developed at future conferences.

We intend to publish the proceedings. For further information, please contact either Jenny Moore or Neil Rhodes.

About the authors: Jenny Moore is a postgraduate in the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield. Neil Rhodes was formerly a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Geography, also at Sheffield.

Jenny Moore1997


assemblage 1997