Several chemical and enzymatic properties were examined in the DNA extracted from dry remains of soft tissues that vary in age from 4 to 13,000 years and represent four species, including two extinct animals (the marsupial wolf and giant ground sloth). The DNA obtained was invariably of a low average molecular size and damaged by oxidative processes, which primarily manifest themselves as modifications of pyrimidines and sugar residues as well as baseless sites and intermolecular cross-links. This renders molecular cloning difficult. However, the polymerase chain reaction can be used to amplify and study short mitochondrial DNA sequences that are of anthropological and evolutionary significance. This opens up the prospect of performing diachronical studies of molecular evolutionary genetics.