Abstract We have analyzed the three most commonly used geomagnetic polarity time scales that cover the past 100 m.y.. In the three cases, different spectral analyses show a 13–16 m.y. periodicity in the rate of reversal occurrence. To test whether this periodicity is real or simply arises from a random generator we have compared these polarity time scales with a large number of synthetic sequences produced by a random process, characterized by a linear time variation of its mean activity. Geomagnetic and generated sequences were regularly sampled by using sliding windows, anf then the Fourier spectra of the obtained frequency signals were compared. This test shows that the detected periodicity is presumably not a simple statistical fluctuation of an aperiodic generator, and consequently that a long-term periodicity in the geodynamo must be seriously considered.