Regions beyond the present or past penetration of the Indian and African monsoons have experienced several large and abrupt climatic fluctuations over the past 13 14C kyr. Pollen and lake records from West Asia (Western Tibet and Rajasthan), East Africa (Ethiopia) and West Africa (Western Sahara, Sahel and subequatorial Africa) were selected on the basis of chronological control, sensitivity of both site and environmental indicators to climate change, the continuity of the record, and interdisciplinary control of the palaeoclimatic interpretation. Conditions wetter than those of today prevailed during the early-mid-Holocene period, but major dry spells are recorded at all sites during the intervals ∼ 11.0-9.5 kyr BP, ∼ 8-7 kyr BP and 3-4 kyr BP. Several records also suggest dry events of minor amplitude around 6 kyr BP. Potential boundary forcings of insolation and sea surface and tropical land surface conditions are discussed. The solar radiation accounts for the general envelop of the post-glacial monsoon fluctuations, but explains neither the timing nor the amplitude of the short-term changes. In spite of apparent covariation between fluctuations in sea surface conditions in the North Atlantic and the monsoon record, no direct mechanism could be found relating the intensity of the oceanic thermohaline conveyor belt to the monsoon strength. Changes in tropical land surface conditions (soil moisture negative feedback, and changes in CH 4 production from wetlands) provide a more satisfactory hypothesis for explaining abrupt reversal events.