This paper links research questions in Quaternary geology with those in Palaeolithic archaeology. A detailed geological reconstruction of The Netherlands' south-west offshore area provides a stratigraphical context for archaeological and palaeontological finds. Progressive environmental developments have left a strong imprint on the area's Palaeolithic record. We highlight aspects of landscape evolution and related taphonomical changes, visualized in maps for critical periods of the Pleistocene in the wider southern North Sea region. The Middle Pleistocene record is divided into two palaeogeographical stages: the pre-Anglian/Elsterian stage, during which a wide land bridge existed between England and Belgium even during marine highstands; and the Anglian/Elsterian to Saalian interglacial, with a narrower land bridge, lowered by proglacial erosion but not yet fully eroded. The Late Pleistocene landscape was very different, with the land bridge fully dissected by an axial Rhine–Thames valley, eroded deep enough to fully connect the English Channel and the North Sea during periods of highstand. This tripartite staging implies great differences in (i) possible migration routes of herds of herbivores as well as hominins preying upon them, (ii) the erosion base of axial and tributary rivers causing an increase in the availability of flint raw materials and (iii) conditions for loess accumulation in northern France and Belgium and the resulting preservation of Middle Palaeolithic sites. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.