Archaean hydrothermal chert veins commonly contain abundant organic carbon of uncertain origin (abiotic vs. biotic). In this study, we analysed kerogen contained in a hydrothermal chert vein from the ca. 3.5Ga Dresser Formation (Pilbara Craton, Western Australia). Catalytic hydropyrolysis (HyPy) of this kerogen yielded n-alkanes up to n-C22, with a sharp decrease in abundance beyond n-C18. This distribution ( ≤ n-C18) is very similar to that observed in HyPy products of recent bacterial biomass, which was used as reference material, whereas it differs markedly from the unimodal distribution of abiotic compounds experimentally formed via Fischer–Tropsch-type synthesis. We therefore propose that the organic matter in the Archaean chert veins has a primarily microbial origin. The microbially derived organic matter accumulated in anoxic aquatic (surface and/or subsurface) environments and was then assimilated, redistributed and sequestered by the hydrothermal fluids ("hydrothermal pump hypothesis").