We present the first comprehensive detrital zircon U–Pb age dataset from Palaeozoic sandstones of Saudi Arabia, which provides new insights into the erosion history of the East African Orogen and sediment recycling in northern Gondwana. Five main age populations are present in varying amounts in the zircon age spectra, with age peaks at ~625 Ma, ~775 Ma, ~980 Ma, ~1840 Ma and ~2480 Ma. Mainly igneous rocks of the Arabian–Nubian Shield are suggested to be the most prominent sources for the Ediacaran to middle Tonian zircon grains. Palaeoproterozoic and Archaean grains may be xenocrystic zircons or they have been recycled from older terrigenous sediment. A primary derivation from Palaeoproterozoic and Archaean basement is also possible, as rocks of such age occur in the vicinity. Approximately 4 % of the detrital zircons show Palaeozoic (340–541 Ma) ages. These grains are likely derived from Palaeozoic post-orogenic and anorogenic igneous rocks of NE Africa and Arabia. A few single grains gave up to Eoarchaean (3.6–4.0 Ga) ages, which are the oldest zircons yet described from Arabia and its vicinity. Their origin, however, is yet unknown. Detrital zircons with U–Pb ages of ~1.0 Ga are present in varying amounts in all of the samples and are a feature of terrigenous sediment belonging to the Gondwana super-fan system with an East African – Arabian zircon province.