Hemichordates, the phylum of bilateral animals most closely related to chordates, could reveal the evolutionary origins of chordate traits such as the nerve cord, notochord, gill slits and tail. The anteroposterior maps of gene expression domains for 38 genes of chordate neural patterning are highly similar for hemichordates and chordates, even though hemichordates have a diffuse nerve-net. About 40% of the domains are not present in protostome maps. We propose that this map, the gill slits and the tail date to the deuterostome ancestor. The map of dorsoventral expression domains, centered on a Bmp-Chordin axis, differs between the two groups; hemichordates resemble protostomes more than they do chordates. The dorsoventral axis might have undergone extensive modification in the chordate line, including centralization of the nervous system, segregation of epidermis, derivation of the notochord, and an inversion of organization.