A series of isothermal hydrous pyrolysis experiments was performed on immature sedimentary rocks and peats of different lithology and organic source input to explore the generation of diamondoids during the thermal maturation of sediments. Oil generation curves indicate that peak oil yields occur between 340 and 360 ??C, followed by intense oil cracking in different samples. The biomarker maturity parameters appear to be insensitive to thermal maturation as most of the isomerization ratios of molecular biomarkers in the pyrolysates have reached their equilibrium values. Diamondoids are absent from immature peat extracts, but exist in immature sedimentary rocks in various amounts. This implies that they are not products of biosynthesis and that they may be generated during diagenesis, not just catagenesis and cracking. Most importantly, the concentrations of diamondoids are observed to increase with thermal stress, suggesting that they can be used as a molecular proxy for thermal maturity of source rocks and crude oils. Their abundance is most sensitive to thermal exposure above temperatures of 360-370 ??C (R0 = 1.3-1.5%) for the studied samples, which corresponds to the onset of intense cracking of other less stable components. Below these temperatures, diamondoids increase gradually due to competing processes of generation and dilution. Calibrations were developed between their concentrations and measured vitrinite reflectance through hydrous pyrolysis maturation of different types of rocks and peats. The geochemical models obtained from these methods may provide an alterative approach for determining thermal maturity of source rocks and crude oils, particularly in mature to highly mature Paleozoic carbonates. In addition, the extent of oil cracking was quantified using the concentrations of diamondoids in hydrous pyrolysates of rocks and peats, verifying that these hydrocarbons are valuable indicators of oil cracking in nature. ?? 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.