When mitochondrial DNA sequence variation is analyzed from a sample of 637 individuals in 14 European populations, most populations show little differentiation with respect to each other. However, the Saami distinguish themselves by a comparatively large amount of sequence difference when compared with the other populations, by a different distribution of sequence diversity within the population, and by the occurrence of particular sequence motifs. Thus, the Saami seem to have a long history distinct from other European populations. Linguistic affiliations are not reflected in the patterns of relationships of mitochondrial lineages in European populations, whereas prior studies of nuclear gene frequencies have shown a correlation between genetic and linguistic evolution. It is argued that this apparent contradiction is attributable to the fact that genetic lineages and gene frequencies reflect different time perspectives on population history, the latter being more in concordance with linguistic evolution.