Aromatic hydrocarbons from benzene extracts of New Albany Shale were characterized. A biomarker that has a molecular weight of 546 and a structural configuration consistent with that of an alkyl-aromatic hydrocarbon (C40H66) was tentatively identified. It was found that the relative concentrations of the biomarker are indicative of differing levels of thermal maturity of the shale organic matter. A 40-carbon bicyclic carotenoid (C40H48) is proposed as the geochemical precursor of this biomarker. Thermal maturity of the shale organic matter can also be differentiated by observing differences in "fingerprints" as obtained by field-ionization mass spectrometry on the aromatic hydrocarbon fraction. Using this technique, we found that the more mature shale samples from southeastern Illinois contain more low molecular weight extractable aromatic hydrocarbons and the less mature shale samples from northwestern Illinois contain more high molecular weight extractable aromatic hydrocarbons. It was demonstrated that field-ionization and tandem mass spectrometric techniques through fingerprint and individual compound identification, are useful for shale aromatic hydrocarbon fraction characterization and for thermal maturation interpretation. ?? 1986.