Human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) restriction endonuclease fragment patterns were analyzed using total blood cell DNA isolated from 200 individuals representing five different populations. Thirty-two fragment patterns (morphs) were observed with the enzymes Hpa I, Bam HI, Hae II, Msp I and Ava II yielding thirty-five different combinations of fragment patterns (mt DNA types). The major ethnic groups exhibit quantitative as well as qualitative differences in their mtDNA types, all of which are related to each other by a tree in which the closely related mtDNA types cluster according to geographic origin. Three mtDNA types are postulated to be 'central' to ethnic radiations due to their high frequencies, their appearance in more than one ethnic group, or their presence in other primate species. Genetic distances among populations were computed and employed in construction of an average linkage tree. If one of the three central mtDNA types is the root of the tree, differences in evolutionary rates among the branches become apparent. In particular, the Bushmen appear to have a higher evolutionary rate for mtDNA than the other four populations. Comparisons with nuclear gene frequencies suggest that this higher evolutionary rate may be the product of an elevated mutation rate or fixation of mutations in mtDNA.