Eighty-five wild and cultivated accessions of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), representing a wide geographic area in the centres of domestication were tested for restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs). Genomic DNA was digested with one of three restriction enzymes (EcoRI, EcoRV, and HindIII) and hybridized to 12 probes distributed throughout the common bean genome. Accessions could be classified into two major groups with a distinct geographical distribution in Middle America and the Andes. Within each gene pool, cultivated accessions clustered together with wild forms from the same geographical area supporting the multiple domestications hypothesis for this crop. Estimates of Nei's genetic distances among the cultivated races from the two different gene pools varied from 0.12 to 0.56 and among races from the same gene pool from 0.04 to 0.12, suggesting that the divergence in Phaseolus vulgaris has reached the subspecies level. The level of genetic diversity (Ht = 0.38) was twice the value obtained with isozyme analysis. Genetic diversity within races (Hs = 0.27) was four to five times higher compared with isozymes, but genetic diversity between races (Dst = 0.11) was similar for both categories of markers. These results corroborate previous studies on the characterization of genetic diversity in common bean that clearly showed two distinct gene pools, Middle American and Andean. Moreover, RFLP markers are superior to isozymes because they provide better coverage of the genome and reveal higher level of polymorphisms.