Rapid warming and consequent ice-shelf collapse have focused attention on the glacial record of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here, we present the first record of terrestrial organic material exposed by recently retreating ice that bears on past glacier extent and climate in this sensitive region. Radiocarbon dates show that ice on Anvers Island was at or behind its present position at 700–970 cal. yr B.P., coincident with ice reduction elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Moreover, the data indicate that present reduced ice extent on the western Antarctic Peninsula is not unprecedented and is similar to that experienced during at least three periods in the last 5600 yr.