Underacetylation of histone H4 is thought to be involved in the molecular mechanism of mammalian X chromosome inactivation, which is an important model system for large-scale genetic control in eukaryotes. However, it has not been established whether histone underacetylation plays a critical role in the multistep inactivation pathway. Here we demonstrate differential histone H4 acetylation between the X chromosomes of a female marsupial, Macropus eugenii. Histone underacetylation is the only molecular aspect of X inactivation known to be shared by marsupial and eutherian mammals. Its strong evolutionary conservation implies that, unlike DNA methylation, histone underacetylation was a feature of dosage compensation in a common mammalian ancestor, and is therefore likely to play a central role in X chromosome inactivation in all mammals.