Carbon seams in the Witwatersrand System of South Africa host some of the richest gold concentrations in the world. A study of the microscopic characteristics in thin sections and acid residues, and of the chemical and physical nature of the carbon-bearing phases, was undertaken to gain some understanding of the biological precursors and thermal changes that have occurred since the seams were buried. The HClHF acid-resistant organic tissues in this Early Proterozoic coal are filamentous and spherical, which are typical morphologies for microorganisms. The tissues are carbonized black as would be expected for metamorphic rocks, so usual palynological techniques were of limited use. Therefore, the chemical and physical nature of the organic remains was studied by H C ratios, X-ray diffraction (XRD), 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), reductive chemistry, crosspolarization/magic angle spinning NMR (CP/MAS), and electron spin resonance (ESR). The H C ratios of the samples examined are similar to those of semi-anthracite and petroleum cokes from delayed cokers. XRD shows graphite is not present and that the gold is in elemental form, not chemically bound or intercalated between carbon planes. NMR shows that both aromatic and paraffinic carbons are present. Integration of the carbon NMR spectra suggests that 80% of the carbon is sp2-hybridized and 20% is sp3-hybridized. Reductive chemistry shows that the benzenoid entities are larger than common polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons such as perylene and decacyclene. Dipolar dephasing CP/MAS NMR suggests the presence of two types of paraffinic carbons, a rigid methylene group and a rotating methyl group. The narrowing of the ESR linewidth between room temperature and 300??C shows that the materials examined have not previously been subjected to temperatures as high as 300??C. ?? 1990.