AbstractThe spatial pattern of Antarctic surface air temperature variability on multi–decadal to multi–centennial time scales is poorly known because of the short instrumental records, the relatively small number of high–resolution paleoclimate observations, and biases in climate models. Here, changes in surface air temperature over Antarctica are reconstructed over the past two millennia using data assimilation constrained by different ice core water isotope records in order to identify robust signals. The comparison between previous statistically based temperature reconstructions and simulations covering the full Common Era driven by natural and anthropogenic forcings shows major discrepancies occurring in the period 1–1000 CE over East Antarctica, with the reconstructions displaying a warming over 1–500 CE that is not reproduced by the simulations. This suggests that the trends in the first millennium deduced from the statistically based reconstructions are unlikely to be entirely forced by external forcings. Our reconstructions show the high sensitivity of the 500-year temperature trend in Antarctica and its spatial distribution to selection of the records for the reconstructions, especially during 1–500 CE. A robust cooling over Antarctica during 501–1000 CE has been obtained in three data assimilation–based reconstructions with a larger magnitude in the WAIS than elsewhere over Antarctica, in agreement with previous estimates with the larger changes than simulated in climate models. The reconstructions for atmospheric circulation indicate that the pattern of temperature changes over 501–1000 CE is related to the positive trend of Southern Annular Mode and a deepening of Amundsen Sea Low. This confirms the role of internal variability in the temperature trends on multi–centennial scales.