mtDNA sequence variation was examined in 140 Africans, including Pygmies from Zaire and Central African Republic (C.A.R.) and Mandenkalu, Wolof, and Pular from Senegal. More than 76% of the African mtDNAs (100% of the Pygmies and 67.3% of the Senegalese) formed one major mtDNA cluster (haplogroup L) defined by an African-specific HpaI site gain at nucleotide pair (np) 3592. Additional mutations subdivided haplogroup L into two subhaplogroups, each encompassing both Pygmy and Senegalese mtDNAs. A novel 12-bp homoplasmic insertion in the intergenic region between tRNA(Tyr) and cytochrome oxidase I (COI) genes was also observed in 17.6% of the Pygmies from C.A.R. This insertion is one of the largest observed in human mtDNAs. Another 25% of the Pygmy mtDNAs harbored a 9-bp deletion between the cytochrome oxidase II (COII) and tRNA(Lys) genes, a length polymorphism previously reported in non-African populations. In addition to haplogroup L, other haplogroups were observed in the Senegalese. These haplogroups were more similar to those observed in Europeans and Asians than to haplogroup L mtDNAs, suggesting that the African mtDNAs without the HpaI np 3592 site could be the ancestral types from which European and Asian mtDNAs were derived. Comparison of the intrapopulation sequence divergence in African and non-African populations confirms that African populations exhibit the largest extent of mtDNA variation, a result that further supports the hypothesis that Africans represent the most ancient human group and that all modern humans have a common and recent African origin. The age of the total African variation was estimated to be 101,000-133,000 years before present (YBP), while the age of haplogroup L was estimated at 98,000-130,000 YBP. These values substantially exceed the ages of all Asian- and European-specific mtDNA haplogroups.