We present restriction maps for chromosomes 1 and 2 of six cloned lines of P. falciparum. These delineate the locations of eight genetic markers, including genes for five antigens. In parasites from diverse areas, chromosome structure is conserved in central regions but is polymorphic both in length and sequence near the telomeres. The telomeres and adjacent sequences comprise a conserved structure at the ends of most P. falciparum chromosomes. However, the subtelomeric zones are polymorphic and coincide with the locations of a repetitive element (rep20). Deletions of rep20 generate clones of P. falciparum that lack rep20 on one or both ends of chromosomes 1 or 2, and larger deletions remove telomere-proximal genes as well. The chromosome length polymorphisms can therefore be largely explained by recombination within these blocks of repeats, a mechanism that is also important in the generation of diversity in genes for repetitive antigens of P. falciparum.