The Fertile Crescent, its hilly flanks and surrounding drylands has been a critical region for studying how climate has influenced societal change, and this review focuses on the region over the last 20,000 years. The complex social, economic, and environmental landscapes in the region today are not new phenomena and understanding their interactions requires a nuanced, multidisciplinary understanding of the past. This review builds on a history of collaboration between the social and natural palaeoscience disciplines. We provide a multidisciplinary, multiscalar perspective on the relevance of past climate, environmental, and archaeological research in assessing present day vulnerabilities and risks for the populations of southwest Asia. We discuss the complexity of palaeoclimatic data interpretation, particularly in relation to hydrology, and provide an overview of key time periods of palaeoclimatic interest. We discuss the critical role that vegetation plays in the human–climate–environment nexus and discuss the implications of the available palaeoclimate and archaeological data, and their interpretation, for palaeonarratives of the region, both climatically and socially. We also provide an overview of how modelling can improve our understanding of past climate impacts and associated change in risk to societies. We conclude by looking to future work, and identify themes of “scale” and “seasonality” as still requiring further focus. We suggest that by appreciating a given locale's place in the regional hydroscape, be it an archaeological site or palaeoenvironmental archive, more robust links to climate can be made where appropriate and interpretations drawn will demand the resolution of factors acting across multiple scales. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems.