European mitochondrial alleles cluster into five haplogroups. Haplogroup 2 is rare in general, but represents more than half of the few known sequences among Ladin speakers of the Alps. Here we describe DNA diversity in control region I of the hypervariable D–loop in 43 Ladins, and in 25 Italian speakers. Analysis of these data, and of previously published sequences, confirms a high degree of differentiation among Ladins and their geographical neighbours. This cannot be regarded as a simple effect of isolating factors, geographic or linguistic, as diversity is high within Ladin communities too. Rather, allele genealogies, population trees, and principal component analysis suggest a relationship between Ladin and Near Eastern samples. Two evolutionary hypotheses seem compatible with these findings. The view whereby Ladins could be descended from Palaeolithic inhabitants of the Alps is supported by the identification, in this study, of the probable ancestral haplotype of group 2, never previously observed in central Europe. Alternatively, a comparatively recent, Neolithic immigration of the ancestors of current Ladin speakers seems consistent with recent linguistic theories. In both cases, the number of lineages present, and their extensive diversity, are not compatible with a serious bottleneck in the Ladin population's history.