Recently, it has been shown that the early developmental organization of the archicortical hippocampus resembles that of the neocortex. In both cortices at embryonic stages, a preplate is present, which is split by the formation of the cortical plate into a marginal zone and a subplate layer. The pioneer neurons of the preplate are believed to form a phylogenetically ancient cortical structure. Neurons in these preplate layers are the first postmitotic neurons and have important roles in the development of the cerebral cortex. Cajal-Retzius cells in the marginal zone regulate the phenotype of radial glial cells and may direct neuronal migration establishing the inside-out gradient of corticogenesis. Furthermore, pioneer neurons form the initial axonal connections with other (sub)cortical structures. A significant difference between the hippocampus and neocortex, however, is that in the hippocampus, most afferents are guided by the pioneer neurons in the prominent marginal zone, while in the neocortex most ingrowing afferent axons enter via the subplate. At later developmental periods, most pioneer neurons disappear by cell death or transform into other neuronal shapes. Here, we review the early developmental organization of the mammalian cerebral cortex (both neocortex and hippocampus) and discuss the functions and fate of pioneer neurons in cortical development, in particular that of Cajal-Retzius cells. Evaluating the developmental properties of the hippocampus and neocortex, we present the hypothesis that the distribution of the main ingrowing afferent systems in the developing neocortex, which differs from the one in the hippocampal region, may have enabled the specific evolution of the neocortex.