We analyzed the spatiotemporal pattern of expression of 15 transcription factors (Six1, Six4, Eya1, Sox3, Sox2, Pax6, Pax3, Pax2, Pax8, Dlx3, Msx1, FoxI1c, Tbx2, Tbx3, Xiro1) during placode development in Xenopus laevis from neural plate to late tail bud stages. Out of all genes investigated, only the expression of Eya1, Six1, and Six4 is maintained in all types of placode (except the lens) throughout embryonic development, suggesting that they may promote generic placodal properties and that their crescent-shaped expression domain surrounding the neural plate defines a panplacodal primordium from which all types of placode originate. Double-labeling procedures were employed to reveal the precise position of this panplacodal primordium relative to neural plate, neural crest, and other placodal markers. Already at neural plate stages, the panplacodal primordium is subdivided into several subregions defined by particular combinations of transcription factors allowing us to identify the approximate regions of origin of various types of placode. Whereas some types of placode were already prefigured by molecularly distinct areas at neural plate stages, the epibranchial, otic, and lateral line placodes arise from a common posterior placodal area (characterized by Pax8 and Pax2 expression) and acquire differential molecular signatures only after neural tube closure. Our findings argue for a multistep mechanism of placode induction, support a combinatorial model of placode specification, and suggest that different placodes evolved from a common placodal primordium by successive recruitment of new inducers and target genes.