The study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has helped to demonstrate the African origin of our species and the relationship between living humans and the Neanderthals. mtDNA data have also been used to establish the time and route of major events in human history, such as the expansion of Neolithic farmers into Europe, and the settlement of the Pacific and the New World. However, it is becoming apparent that mtDNA evolution is more complex than previously believed. Anomalous mutation patterns perturb phylogenetic assumptions based on mtDNA data. Although they are frequently dismissed as sequencing errors or mutation hotspots, some of the anomalies have no satisfactory explanation. The mechanisms behind apparent mutation rate heterogeneity, or even possible mtDNA recombination, remain unknown. These issues need to be addressed, as they have profound consequences for the interpretation of mtDNA data.