The recent availability of several archaeal genome sequences has provided a basis for detailed analyses of the frequency, location and phylogeny of archaeal mobile elements. All the known elements fall into two main types, autonomous insertion sequence (IS) elements and the non-autonomous miniature inverted repeat element (MITE)-like elements. Both classes are considered to be mobilized via transposases that are encoded by the IS elements, although mobility has only been demonstrated experimentally for a few elements. The number, and diversity, of the elements differs greatly between the genomes. At one extreme Sulfolobus solfataricus P2 and Halobacterium NRC-1 are very rich in elements while Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum contains none. The former also show examples of complex clusters of interwoven elements. An analysis of the genomic distribution in S. solfataricus suggests that the putative oriC and terC regions act as barriers for the mobility of both IS and MITE-like elements. Moreover, the very high level of truncated IS elements in the genomes of S. solfataricus, Sulfolobus tokodaii and Thermoplasma volcanium suggests that there may be a cellular mechanism for selectively inactivating IS elements at a point when they become too numerous and disadvantageous for the cell. Phylogenetically, archaeal IS elements are confined to 11 of the 17 known families of bacterial and eukaryal IS elements where some generate distinct subgroups. Finally, DNA viruses, plasmids and DNA fragments can also be inserted into, and excised from, archaeal genomes by means of an integrase-mediated mechanism that has special archaeal characteristics.