The Malta Graben is a deep tectonic depression in the Sicily Channel, bounded by NW–SE normal faults and filled by thick Pliocene–Quaternary deposits. A previous analysis of a giant piston core (LC09) from the Malta Graben had revealed a wide range of sedimentary features (carbonate turbidites, bioturbated mud and scours), although the chronostratigraphic constraint of the stacking pattern has remained elusive. After establishing a reliable chronological framework based on seven radiocarbon dates for a shorter core from the Malta Graben (ANSIC03-735), a down-core analysis of planktonic foraminifer and coccolith abundance, stable isotopes and sediment grain size was carried out. Since the last glacial maximum, palaeoenvironmental conditions (surface fertility and deep chlorophyll maximum during the last glacial and the Younger Dryas; warm and oligotrophic water masses, with a deep nutricline and intense winter mixing during the Holocene) as well as selected calcareous plankton taxa trends and peaks seem to be similar to those reported for other central and western Mediterranean sites, possibly in spite of a unique response of these areas to late Quaternary climatic fluctuations. Four distinct layers, each tens of centimetres thick, are barren of foraminifers but not of coccoliths. Morphobathymetric data as well as new high-resolution and high-penetration seismic profiles show that prolonged contouritic activity has persisted on the western side of the Malta Graben. It is thus likely that layers barren of foraminifers are due to the overflow of fine-grained (clayey) material beyond drift channel dikes.