Archived (1951–1974) and contemporary (1993) surface soil samples collected from the same 46 locations widely distributed over the UK have been analyzed for 12 polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Contemporary soils were analyzed wet, ensuring that contamination, losses or alteration of PAHs in the samples was minimal. Archived soils had been air-dried prior to storage. The ΣPAH concentration of the contemporary and archived soils range from approx. 20 μg kg−1 to 7.4 mg kg−1 (mean = 1.1 mg kg−1) and from approx. 160 μg kg−1 to 7.1 mg kg−1 (mean = 2.1 mg kg−1), respectively. Comparison of the concentrations of PAHs in the archived and contempcrary soils revealed no significant trends for compounds heavier than benzanthracene. For some of the lighter molecular weight compounds the concentrations were notably higher in the archived soils than in the contemporary soils. Two soils of contrasting PAH content (0.08 and 9.8 mg kg−1) were used in an experiment to compare the effects of air-drying on soils with relatively low and high PAH concentrations. Subsamples of soil (10 g) were placed into foil trays and exposed to laboratory air for up to 64 days. A clear increase in theiconcentration of the lighter molecular weight compounds (acenaphthene, fluorene, phenanthrene) occurred in both soils. No marked changes were observed for the heavier molecular weight PAH compounds. This experiment suggests that the higher concentrations of the lower molecular weight compounds measured in the archived soil samples is due to contamination during air drying.