Radiocarbon dates of marine shell beads found at an archaeological site in Lebanon allowed them to calculate the oldest human fossil from the same sequence of archaeological layers is 42,400 to 41,700 years old, researchers at Oxford University reported Friday.
The shells were perforated, suggesting they were used as beads for body or clothing decoration by modern humans since Neanderthals, who were living in the same region before them, were not making such beads, the researchers said.
The Middle East has always been regarded as a key region in prehistory and a likely location of routes taken by early humans out of Africa because it lies at the crossroads of three continents -- Africa, Asia and Europe.
The new findings could help in understanding where the first populations of early humans traveled in their expansion towards Europe and which alternative routes they may have taken, the researchers said.
It is possible that instead of the Near East being the single point of origin for modern humans heading for Europe, they may also have used other routes too, Oxford archaeologist Katerina Douka said.
"This is a region where scholars have been expecting to find early evidence of anatomically and behaviorally modern humans, like us, leaving Africa and directly replacing Eurasian Neanderthal populations that lived there for more than 150,000 years," she said.