Lichens are ubiquitous organisms formed by symbiotic associations of fungal hyphas and algae that also grow under often extreme environmental conditions. They produce secondary metabolites, the so-called lichen substances, whose structural characterization can give an important contribution to lichen taxonomy. Lichens are also widely employed as biomonitors of atmospheric pollution; being epiphyte organisms they tend, in fact, to accumulate exogenous compounds. Moreover, it could be questioned if the environmental stress alters their secondary metabolites production. Therefore, a new strategy for the analysis of the organic substances absorbed or metabolized by lichens has been developed. This method exploits the dry solid-phase microextraction (SPME) headspace technique coupled with gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Lichens coating the stone surfaces of monuments, located in small towns between high mountains and far away from urban environments, have been investigated. In the field of cultural heritage, this study can contribute to the knowledge of the state of conservation of outdoor exposed historical monuments. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.