Principles of place, space and time can frame an understanding of the context and interpretation of Quaternary palaeo-records, and this is particularly the case for the varied proxies used for late Quaternary climate and environmental reconstruction in southern Africa. Place refers to the specific topographic setting or context of any one record, which has implications for the operation of physical processes in the landscape that control the accumulation of different records. Space refers to the spatial scale or footprint of any one record or proxy, and this varies from one proxy to another. Time refers to not only the time period covered by individual records, but also the temporal resolution of the record, which depends on accumulation rates and availability and quality of any radiometric dating. These three principles are discussed specifically in the context of the Quaternary of southern Africa and through the papers that form this special issue, but are also relevant globally. Future research directions in Quaternary research in southern Africa are identified, including opportunities for refining regional chronostratigraphies.