Despite the importance of ancient DNA for understanding human prehistoric dispersals, poor survival means that data remain sparse for many areas in the tropics, including in Africa. In such instances, analysis of contemporary genomes remains invaluable. One promising approach is founder analysis, which identifies and dates migration events in non-recombining systems. However, it has yet to be fully exploited as its application remains controversial. Here, we test the approach by evaluating the age of sub-Saharan mitogenome lineages sampled outside Africa. The analysis confirms that such lineages in the Americas date to recent centuries-the time of the Atlantic slave trade-thereby validating the approach. By contrast, in North Africa, Southwestern Asia and Europe, roughly half of the dispersal signal dates to the early Holocene, during the "greening" of the Sahara. We elaborate these results by showing that the main source regions for the two main dispersal episodes are distinct. For the recent dispersal, the major source was West Africa, but with two exceptions: South America, where the fraction from Southern Africa was greater, and Southwest Asia, where Eastern Africa was the primary source. These observations show the potential of founder analysis as both a supplement and complement to ancient DNA studies.