A key event in human evolution is the expansion of modern humans of African origin across Eurasia between 60 and 40 thousand years (kyr) before present (BP), replacing all other forms of hominins. Owing to the scarcity of human fossils from this period, these ancestors of all present-day non-African modern populations remain largely enigmatic. Here we describe a partial calvaria, recently discovered at Manot Cave (Western Galilee, Israel) and dated to 54.7 +/- 5.5 kyr BP (arithmetic mean +/- 2 standard deviations) by uranium-thorium dating, that sheds light on this crucial event. The overall shape and discrete morphological features of the Manot 1 calvaria demonstrate that this partial skull is unequivocally modern. It is similar in shape to recent African skulls as well as to European skulls from the Upper Palaeolithic period, but different from most other early anatomically modern humans in the Levant. This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans who later successfully colonized Europe. Thus, the anatomical features used to support the `assimilation model' in Europe might not have been inherited from European Neanderthals, but rather from earlier Levantine populations. Moreover, at present, Manot 1 is the only modern human specimen to provide evidence that during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic interface, both modern humans and Neanderthals contemporaneously inhabited the southern Levant, close in time to the likely interbreeding event with Neanderthals.