Late-glacial and early Holocene climatic conditions have been reconstructed for northern Europe using the mutual climatic range (MCR) palaeoclimate method based on fossil coleopteran assemblages. Altogether, beetle faunas from 77 sites have been analysed ranging from Ireland in the west to Poland and Finland in the east, and MCR estimates calculated. The results are plotted on 16 maps, each representative of a selected time-slice covering the period from 14.5 14C kyr BP to 9.0 14C kyr BP. Eight of the maps show the MCR estimates of Tmax (mean temperature of the warmest month) derived from each site for which data are available, while the remainder show estimated Tmax isotherms interpolated from these values. It can be demonstrated that at times the thermal climate was fairly uniform throughout the study area, whereas at others temperature gradients were much steeper than they are in the region today. There also appears to be a distinct contrast between cold periods, when contours trended NW–SE, and warmer periods, when contours trend W–E or even NE–SW. The pattern of climatic changes that emerges is shown to be very different from the traditional view that has been used up to now as a template for classifying Late-glacial climatic events on a wide, even global, scale. The suddenness and intensity of changes in the thermal climate may have been partially responsible for an apparent lack of equilibrium between the flora and fauna of the time and the physical environment in which they lived. © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.