The concept of ‘archaeophytes’ (alien taxa which became established in a study area before AD 1500) is widely used in floristic analyses in central and northern Europe, but few authors have applied it to the British flora. Six criteria for the recognition of archaeophytes are outlined, drawing upon evidence of fossil and recent history, current habitat and European and extra-European distribution. These are used to identify 157 probable archaeophytes in Britain. Only five of these are known from fossil records from the Neolithic; most are first recorded in archaeological contexts in the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman or Medieval periods. As a group, archaeophytes (unlike neophytes) have declined in Britain in the 20th century. Comparison of the accepted status of these species in the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Finland demonstrates that over 50% are treated as archaeophytes in central Europe, but in Finland many are absent or only present as casual introductions. Species regarded as archaeophytes in these countries but as natives in Britain are also reviewed. The indirect nature of the evidence used to identify archaeophytes means that it is usually impossible to be certain about the history of a species; in particular, archaeophytes which have successfully invaded semi-natural habitats are likely to be overlooked as natives. The suggestion that a species is an archaeophyte is best regarded as a hypothesis to be tested by further studies. There is considerable scope for archaeological investigations aimed at addressing these botanical problems. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 145, 257−294.