As a palaeo-ecologist, working with historians has made me look critically at the strengths and limitations of my discipline. Resisting the temptation to defer to documents that, however partial or biased, remain far closer to human experience of the land than any pollen sequence, is essential (see Davies and Watson 2007; Hamilton et al. 2009). Richard Tipping (2004) recognized this lure when he distinguished two philosophical approaches to interpreting historic landscape change. These are my starting point for offering an environmental archaeologist's response to the archaeological and interdisciplinary challenges discussed by Toby Pillatt. First, Tipping defined a ‘confirmatory’ approach, in which palaeo-ecologists have sought correlations with written records, but only to confirm documented events, not to challenge them. In this, they have usually relied on selective readings and secondary, often generalized, historical sources. Reading this paper, it is evident that this is not only a one-way process, as those discussing human experience of the environment have been led by models and issues from the environmental sciences, including contemporary concerns. Indeed, a reader of Dawson's (2009) history of Scotland's weather and climate may be forgiven for thinking that all weather was bad weather, with possibly unfavourable expectations for human experience.