Session at SAA 2018 in Washington, DC

April 17, 2017

The Yale Initiative for the Study of Ancient Pyrotechnology ( plans to organize a session at the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual meeting in 2018 in Washington, D.C.

We hope to bring together scholars working on diverse topics under the heading of pyrotechnology.

Examples of potential presentation topics include but is certainly not limited to:

  • Seeking evidence for the earliest controlled fire in Africa
  • Meanings of flame symbols in Classic Maya iconography
  • Micromorphology of hearth features in Levantine caves
  • Debating the independent origins of ironworking in Africa
  • Effects of firing temperature and temper on ceramic strength
  • Cremation practices in ancient Greece versus Mesopotamia
  • Centralization versus dispersion of bronze smelting in China

These are only examples, and we welcome any proposals that link technology, material culture, economics, or other past activities to attaining and controlling greater and greater temperatures.

The session title and abstract are below:

Session Title:

What’s Hot in Pyrotechnology? Controlling Fire from Campfires and Cooking to Alloys and Artisans

Session Abstract:

The defining characteristic of humanity was long thought to be the manufacture and use of tools. Toolmaking, though, has since been observed in not only other primates but also birds, otters, and octopi, among others. Making fire, however, remains an exclusively human skill. Much of our technology can be conceptualized in terms of the control of fire: pyrotechnology. Until recently in human history, the development of new technologies and materials depended on people attaining and controlling greater and greater temperatures. This process began more than one million years ago as the emergence and spread of our species depended on fire for warmth, cooking, and protection. Later we used fire to treat stone and wood implements and to create adhesives to join them together as compound tools. Baked clay eventually followed, as did ceramics, metals, faience, glass, and other substances upon which civilization was built. Additionally, fire is cross-culturally used ceremonially, and it is ascribed a variety of symbolic meanings. This session, organized by the Yale Initiative for the Study of Ancient Pyrotechnology, considers how our increasingly sophisticated control of fire, as evidenced in the archaeological record and in material culture, sparked behavioral, cultural, and societal complexity around the world.

Here is SAA’s call for submissions, including dates of importance:

No commitment is necessary at this point, but please send an email to if you are interested and/or would like to receive updates regarding our planning for the session.