Human mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) from 153 independent samples encompassing seven Asian populations were surveyed for sequence variation using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), restriction endonuclease analysis and oligonucleotide hybridization. All Asian populations were found to share two ancient AluI/DdeI polymorphisms at nps 10394 and 10397 and to be genetically similar indicating that they share a common ancestry. The greatest mtDNA diversity and the highest frequency of mtDNAs with HpaI/HincII morph 1 were observed in the Vietnamese suggesting a Southern Mongoloid origin of Asians. Remnants of the founding populations of Papua New Guinea (PNG) were found in Malaysia, and a marked frequency cline for the COII/tRNA(Lys) intergenic deletion was observed along coastal Asia. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that both insertion and deletion mutations in the COII/tRNA(Lys) region have occurred more than once.