Despite its harsh environmental conditions, terrestrial Antarctica contains a relatively large microbial biomass. Natural abundance carbon and nitrogen stable isotope signatures of organic materials in the dry valleys indicate mixed provenance of the soil organic matter (SOM) with varying proportions of contributions from lichens, mosses, lake-derived algae and cyanobacteria. Here we employed two complementary analytical techniques, biomarker measurements by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and solution-state H-1 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, to provide further information at a molecular-level about the composition and possible source of SOM in the Garwood Valley, Antarctica. The predominance of branched alkanes and short-chain lipids in the solvent extracts indicates that the primary contribution to the SOM was microbial-derived. Chemical structures in the NaOH extracts from soils were also dominated by amide, peptides, and a CH3-dominating aliphatic region that were characteristic of microbial signatures. Furthermore, the SOM in the Garwood Valley contained compounds that were different from those in the cyanobacteria-dominated mat from a nearby lake (including monoethyl alkanes and enriched side-chain protons). This observation suggests that easily degradable carbon sources from the nearby lake did not dominate the SOM, which is consistent with a fast turnover of the mat-derived organic matter found in the valley. This study highlights the important role of native soil microbes in the carbon transformation and biogeochemistry in terrestrial Antarctica. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.