Genetic studies have emphasized the contrast between North African and sub-Saharan populations, but the particular affinities of the North African mtDNA pool to that of Europe, the Near East, and sub-Saharan Africa have not previously been investigated. We have analysed 268 mtDNA control-region sequences from various Northwest African populations including several Senegalese groups and compared these with the mtDNA database. We have identified a few mitochondrial motifs that are geographically specific and likely predate the distribution and diversification of modern language families in North and West Africa. A certain mtDNA motif (16172C, 16219G), previously found in Algerian Berbers at high frequency, is apparently omnipresent in Northwest Africa and may reflect regional continuity of more than 20,000 years. The majority of the maternal ancestors of the Berbers must have come from Europe and the Near East since the Neolithic. The Mauritanians and West-Saharans, in contrast, bear substantial though not dominant mtDNA affinity with sub-Saharans.