Recent technological and methodological advances in palaeoclimate and environmental reconstruction are increasingly allowing comparisons to historical and archaeological records of societal change. A major motivation of this work is to explore the interactions between natural and human systems on annual to millennial timescales to provide potential insights into future change. Research on this topic has shown that ancient societies in different regions of the world experienced and responded to a range of Holocene climatic and environmental changes with varying degrees of success. However, for the palaeo record to be fully exploited in this regard, it is clear that future work should focus on developing datasets that are more directly integrated with archaeological and historical evidence. Here we consider a range of issues related to achieving this aim and argue that increased interdisciplinarity through collaboration with human and social science colleagues will be critical. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.