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This volume is the edited proceedings of a conference seeking to clarify the possible role of clays in the origin of life on Earth. At the heart of the problem of the origin of life lie fundamental questions such as: What kind of properties is a model of a primitive living system required to exhibit and what would its most plausible chemical and molecular makeup be? Answers to these questions have traditionally been sought in terms of properties that are held to be common to all contemporary organisms. However, there are a number of different ideas both on the nature and on the evolutionary priority of 'common vital properties', notably those based on protoplasmic, biochemical and genetic theories of life. This is therefore the first area for consideration in this volume and the contributors then examine to what extent the properties of clay match those required by the substance which acted as the template for life.