The out-of-Africa scenario has hitherto provided little evidence for the precise route by which modern humans left Africa. Two major routes of dispersal have been hypothesized: one through North Africa into the Levant, documented by fossil remains, and one through Ethiopia along South Asia, for which little, if any, evidence exists. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) can be used to trace maternal ancestry. The geographic distribution and variation of mtDNAs can be highly informative in defining potential range expansions and migration routes in the distant past. The mitochondrial haplogroup M, first regarded as an ancient marker of East-Asian origin, has been found at high frequency in India and Ethiopia, raising the question of its origin. (A haplogroup is a group of haplotypes that share some sequence variations.) Its variation and geographical distribution suggest that Asian haplogroup M separated from eastern-African haplogroup M more than 50,000 years ago. Two other variants (489C and 10873C) also support a single origin of haplogroup M in Africa. These findings, together with the virtual absence of haplogroup M in the Levant and its high frequency in the South-Arabian peninsula, render M the first genetic indicator for the hypothesized exit route from Africa through eastern Africa/western India. This was possibly the only successful early dispersal event of modern humans out of Africa.