The genesis of this book was a one-day session held at the Fourth World Archaeological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa in January 1999. We are very grateful to the organisers for allowing us a whole day for our workshop and for creating a rarefied but relaxed atmosphere that promoted discussion among people from very varied backgrounds. Most of the contributors, including the editors, had never met before and we all benefited enormously from several days of intense but highly enjoyable interaction. The editors would like to thank all those who presented papers as well as the keen audience who actively contributed to the lively debates, which overflowed into the various meeting places throughout the conference. Although given very little warning, Henry Mutoro and Patrick Mbunwe-Samba graciously offered to present important and timely papers about the effects of El Niño on archaeological sites in Kenya and the catastrophic Lake Nyos gas explosion in Cameroon respectively. Although we are unable to present these papers here and therefore lack important African case studies, the experiences they reported at the conference have certainly coloured how many participants view the social effects of disasters. Special thanks to Dave Gilbertson and Pip Rath who took notes from the discussions and to Lucy Johnson for circulating these. We also acknowledge those who contributed abstracts to WAC-4 but were unable to attend. Fortunately, several nevertheless prepared papers for this book. Finally, we were very fortunate in being able to recruit a number of additional papers to broaden the temporal, spatial, and thematic coverage of the papers presented in Cape Town. In this respect we would especially like to thank Chris Newhall and Stephen Athens for their productive suggestions.