The conventional inversion of surface waves depends on modal identification of measured dispersion curves, which can be ambiguous. It is possible to avoid mode-number identification and extraction by inverting the complete phase-velocity spectrum obtained from a multichannel record. We use the fast simulated annealing (FSA) global search algorithm to minimize the difference between the measured phase-velocity spectrum and that calculated from a theoretical layer model, including the field setup geometry. Results show that this algorithm can help one avoid getting trapped in local minima while searching for the best-matching layer model. The entire procedure is demonstrated on synthetic and field data for asphalt pavement. The viscoelastic properties of the top asphalt layer are taken into account, and the inverted asphalt stiffness as a function of frequency compares well with laboratory tests on core samples. The thickness and shear-wave velocity of the deeper embedded layers are resolved within 10% deviation from those values measured separately during pavement construction. The proposed method may be equally applicable to normal soil site investigation and in the field of ultrasonic testing of materials. ?? 2006 Society of Exploration Geophysicists.