The Nihewan Basin is a key region for studying the Palaeolithic archaeology of East Asia. However, because of the lack of suitable dating methods and representative lithic technologies in this region, the ‘Middle Palaeolithic’ sites in this basin have been designated based mainly on stratigraphic correlation, which may be unreliable. In this study, three Palaeolithic sites, Motianling, Queergou and Banjingzi, which have been assigned previously to the ‘Middle Palaeolithic’, are dated based on luminescence dating of K-feldspar grains. Our results show that the cultural layers at Motianling, Queergou and Banjingzi have ages of 315 ± 13, 268 ± 13 and 86 ± 4 ka (corresponding to Marine Isotope Stages 9, 8 and 5), respectively, suggesting that Motianling and Queergou should be assigned to the Lower Palaeolithic, while the age of Banjingzi is consistent with a Middle Palaeolithic attribution. Our results suggest that reassessing the age of ‘Middle Palaeolithic’ sites in the Nihewan Basin, and elsewhere in North China, is crucial for understanding the presence or absence of the Middle Palaeolithic phase in China. Our dating results also indicate that the Sanggan River developed sometime between about 270 and 86 ka ago.