Abstract This paper presents a novel, completely unsupervised fMRI brain mapping method that addresses the three problems of hemodynamic response function (HRF) variability, hemodynamic event timing, and fMRI response non-linearity. Spatial and temporal information are directly taken into account into the core of the activation detection process. In practice, activation detection at voxel v is formulated in terms of temporal alignment between sequences of hemodynamic response onsets (HROs) detected in the fMRI signal at v and in the spatial neighborhood of v, and the input sequence of stimuli or stimulus onsets. Event-related and epoch paradigms are considered. The multiple event sequence alignment problem is solved within the probabilistic framework of hidden Markov multiple event sequence models (HMMESMs), a new class of hidden Markov models. Results obtained on real and synthetic data significantly outperform those obtained with the popular statistical parametric mapping (SPM2) method without requiring any prior definition of the expected activation patterns, the HMMESM mapping approach being completely unsupervised.