Ten sapropels, deposited in three different basins of the eastern Mediterranean since the Miocene and selected from cores of the Deep Sea Drilling Programme have been characterised by elemental analysis; fluorescence, infra-red and NMR spectrometry, by pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and by catalytic hydrogenation at moderately high pressure. The sapropels are Types I-II kerogens, which have been oxidised, probably by a front experienced, since their deposition. Only one, from the Cretan basin, contained structures from lignin. The others, typical of a marine deposition, possessed aromaticities of about 0.2. Their detailed organic structures are described. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.