Cell lineage studies of the rat cerebral cortex suggest that by midneurogenesis, most precursor cells of the ventricular zone are specified to produce a single cell type. Yet there is also evidence for multipotential precursor cells. We used a retroviral vector to follow the developmental potential of cortical precursor cells by labeling cortical cells in cultures from embryos between 12 and 18 days of gestation. We found specified precursor cells as early as embryonic day 12, in addition to bipotential cells that generate neurons and astrocytes. Most importantly, we discovered a type of neural precursor cell, a neuroepithelial cell, that predominates earlier in development, differs distinctly from the specified precursor cells, and as a population, appears to be multipotential. These data suggest that corticogenesis progresses from an early phase dominated by neuroepithelial cells to a later phase characterized by multiple populations of specified precursor cells.