The New Frontiers and Applications in Palynology Symposium was one of 30 Symposia held during last year's 9th
International Palynological Congress in Houston. In introducing the Symposium, I attempted to chart some of the significant landmarks on
the frontiers of palynology. From the earliest identification of pollen grains in 1682, to the
current and expanding use of the Internet and the World Wide Web, palynologists have been exploring
and expanding the frontiers of their discipline. I did this to set the most contemporary of frontiers the
papers to be given at the Symposium into the broader context of the path of that expansion: seminal
and emerging landmarks included the coining of the term "palynology", the application of sophisticated
and powerful computer-based statistical and numerical analysis, and the expansion of palynology
both in terms of the types of palynomorphs used and the applications to which palynology is being put. To
illustrate this theme, I unashamedly adopted imagery from the early western films depicting the "wild
west", an appropriate frontier, I thought, for the Houston setting and Symposium theme; the images
and ideas we establish now contribute to our successors' ideas.
The Symposium had a distinct theme - New Frontiers and Applications in Palynology. While, as
Symposium convenor, I was aware both that all the presenters and members of the audience have their
own specific research and scholarly interests, ideas and contexts, I encouraged all participants in this
Symposium to consider the theme of the Symposium carefully. An ideal outcome of the Symposium was
that we would all able to place our own individual study or ideas into as broad a context as possible. If
we are able to ask questions such as the following, we should be able to truly push forward the frontiers
- What are the key palynological developments in
our research fields?
- How appropriate are existing palynological
methods to addressing research questions in our
individual fields of interest?
- How may existing methods be developed to
enhance the relevance of palynology to our research
- What, if any, are the limitations of palynological
analysis in our field of interest, and how may we
I leave the individual participants both on the stage and in the audience to judge whether we were
successful. Perhaps we made a few small steps forward ... any steps are important steps.
There are several ways in which we may address such questions. We may be able to put our own
individual research interests into the broader contexts of palynology as a discipline in its own right, or the
disciplines such as geology and biology within which palynology plays a contributing role. We may, alternatively,
become somewhat reflective in our practice of palynology, and broaden our view to consider the
palynological landmarks of the last century and the significant recent developments in palynology. We
may even become adventurous, and consider the future direction or directions of palynology. The
paper presenters adopted all of these approaches to varying degrees, many doing as any frontier settler
does: exploring promising paths and charting our progress for those who follow. A list of the presenters
and their papers will give some idea of the diverse paths of exploration.
To introduce the Symposium, I presented my overview, entitled "Landmarks on the frontiers of
palynology: An introduction to the New Frontiers and Applications in Palynology Symposium". This intro-
duction gave the late comers some time to settle before the serious business began with Miklas
Kedves' overview on trends and new aspects of experimental palynology. This was something of a
departure for most of the palynologists present at the Symposium who tended to take a historical and
morphological view pollen, spores and the rest.
The first topic session focused on methods. This opened with Jean-Luc Lenoir's description of the
exciting new preparation technology, focused microwaves. Rae Jones later followed this up with his
discussion of its applications, presenting some truly impressive examples of the speed and clarity of
preparation using this technology. I think no-one could but be impressed at the potential of this new
approach to sample preparation, and the Pro-Lab staff at the demonstration table were kept busy with
enquiries. However, not to be out-done, Lynne Milne presented a double session, first talking about her
methods of "temperature surface-embedding for time-saving ultramicrotomy, and a simple method for
multiple microscopy (LM, SEM, TEM) of single grains", and following it up with a workshop
demonstration of methods. Lynne's entertaining talk and workshop distinguished itself as probably being
the only profit-making talk at the Congress, with the crowds flocking round to buy her sample preparation
kits. After coffee, I continued the topic session with a double act, presenting a preliminary look at radiocarbon
dating of palynomorphs with one of my co-authors, Dan Penny. Unfortunately, I did not, as I
had hoped, have my results to present at the time! Consequently, we hurriedly moved on to more
advanced results. Keith Bennett opened a group of papers discussing the application of computers to
palynology with his discussion of the use of World Wide Web resources for displaying pollen catalogues.
Robert Williams and Douglas Somoza then described, with impressive laptop presentations, their respective
dinoflagellate cyst identification expert systems. Finally, after lunch, we concluded this methods session
with Bob Ravn's rather neat description of correlation coefficient analysis, which he described as an ob-
jective means for the comparison and graphical display of whole-population palynological data. We
rounded up the session, by coming full circle with Rae Jones' focused microwaves. I closed by drawing
the audience's attention to a poster of an absent-to-be participant, Johannes van de Laar, who fortunately
turned up and was able to discuss his poster illustration of the determination of spore color
alteration by means of color image analysis.
The second topic session turned out to be rather shorter than expected, but nevertheles, we were
treated to some fascinating discussions of frontier applications. Willy Groenman-Van Waateringe
brought a range of issues together with her discussion of the pollen found in animal coats, describing her
work on some of the furs found on the famous Ice Man recently uncovered on the Austrian-Italian
border. Here Willy discussed, amongst other things, her work on the effects of hide processing on pollen
grains. The session was closed with Christian Mulder's detailed discussion of the use of radionuclides
for actuopalynological research, using modern pollen data from central Europe and radioactive fallout
from the Chernobyl accident as a rather interesting and extremely exact time marker.
My general impression of all this - and as Convener, I of course have a slight bias - is that it all
went very well. Remarkably for a Symposium on the last day and on the morning after the Congress
Banquet, this Symposium drew a standing-room-only crowd. My task now is to get some of the papers to
publication. I am currently co-editing, with Valerie Hall at Queens University Belfast, a special issue of
Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology on New Frontiers and Applications of Palynology. This
volume will contain a selection of the papers presented at the Symposium, plus some from the
sessions on tephra-linked pollen analytical studies, forensic palynology and phytoliths and pollen.
This article first appeared in CAP Newsletter 20(2):12-14, 1997.