This paper reports the results of a study into the effectiveness of core sampling for discovering Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherer sites in the Netherlands and northwestern Belgium. Earlier work established optimal sampling strategies for use in archaeological heritage management survey in the Netherlands. However, the statistical model used for this was based on a limited amount of data on the distribution of lithic artefacts in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites. For the current study we have analyzed the distribution of artefacts in a selected number of excavated sites, and estimated discovery probabilities of these sites through simulation. The simulation results indicate that discovery probabilities are lower than expected due to the effect of clustering of finds. Furthermore, the density of flints in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites is generally lower than the estimates that were used for setting up the optimal sampling strategies, and a substantial number of sites is very small. This means that, in order to discover Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites with sufficient reliability, we will have to apply more intensive survey strategies than have been recommended up to now. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.