Holocene relative sea level (RSL) changes have been investigated by analysing and dating isolation sequences from five lakes near Sisimiut in south-western Greenland. The transitions between marine and lacustrine sediments were determined from elemental analyses and analyses of macroscopic plant and animal remains. Radiocarbon dating was used to provide minimum ages for the transitions and to construct a RSL curve. Dating of a shell of the marine bivalve Macoma balthica indicates that deglaciation of the lowlands occurred in the early Holocene, at around 10 900 cal a BP. The RSL curve shows initial rapid regression from the marine limit at around 140 m, implying strong glacio-isostatic rebound. We suggest that the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet was located at the shelf break during the Last Glacial Maximum. Frequent remains of the ostracode Sarcypridopsis aculeata, which is a thermophilous brackish water species that is unknown from the extant fauna of Greenland, in one of the basins around 8500 cal a BP may mark the beginning of the Holocene thermal maximum in the region. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.