Spruce, alder, and oak woods deposited in coastal sediments were characterized versus their modern counterparts by quantification of individual neutral sugars and lignin-derived phenols as well as by scanning electron microscopy, 13C NMR, and elemental analysis. The buried spruce wood from a 2500 yr old deposit was unaltered whereas an alder wood from the same horizon and an oak wood from an open ocean sediment were profoundly degraded. Individual sugar and lignin phenol analyses indicate that at least 90 and 98 wt% of the initial total polysaccharides in the buried alder and oak woods, respectively, have been degraded along with 15-25 wt% of the lignin. At least 75% of the degraded biopolymer has been physically lost from these samples. This evidence is supported by the SEM, 13C NMR and elemental analyses, all of which indicate selective loss of the carbohydrate moiety. The following order of stability was observed for the major biochemical constituents of both buried hardwoods: vanillyl and p-hydroxyl lignin structural units > syringyl lignin structural units > pectin > ??-cellulose > hemicellulose. This sequence can be explained by selective preservation of the compound middle lamella regions of the wood cell walls. The magnitude and selectivity of the indicated diagenetic reactions are sufficient to cause major changes in the chemical compositions of wood-rich sedimentary organic mixtures and to provide a potentially large in situ nutrient source. ?? 1985.