The organic matter in 9 recent (not more than 250 years old) and 'organic-rich' sediments from the southern Black Sea shelf and upper slope have been characterized semi-quantitatively by Pyrolysis/Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (PY/GC/MS) and C-13 Cross Polarization Magic Angle Spinning Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (CPMAS-NMR) spectrometry. The organic matter of 7 of the studied sediments was found to be ligno-carbohydrate with a proteinaceous component, one sediment appeared to contain oxidized coal dust and one contained thiophenes in association with pyrite. The ligno component is derived from grasses and soft wood lignin. Material entrapped in an anoxic environment contained the highest proportions of carbohydrate and protein. All the samples had suffered diagenesis as is generally shown by the attachment of carboxyl groups and the removal of methoxyl groups. The evidence suggests that diagenesis occurred whilst the particles traversed the oxic water column. Copyright (C) 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd.