Benzene extractable aliphatic hydrocarbons from the New Albany Shale in the Illinois Basin were characterized by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, and the total organic matter of the shale was characterized by solid state carbon-13 cross polarization magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance. Core samples from a northwest-trending cross-section of the Illinois Basin were studied. Gas chromatography (GC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis (GC/MS) data indicate a regional variation of the aliphatic composition of the shale extracts. A positive, linear relationship between the two ratios, pristane/n-C17 and phytane/n-C18, is indicated. The NMR results indicated that organic matter deposited in northwestern Illinois shale is relatively high in aliphatic hydrocarbon content while, in contrast, organic matter found in southeastern Illinois shale is relatively low in aliphatic hydrocarbon content. Our findings suggest that the organic variation of the shale is mainly due to the differences in thermal maturity of the shale organic matter and the use of pristane/n-C17 ratio as a thermal parameter in the study of oil may be extended to the study of the ancient sediments. ?? 1985.