This article reviews new insights from ascidians on the ancestry of vertebrate neural crest (NC) cells. Ascidians have neural crest-like cells (NCLC), which migrate from the dorsal midline, express some of the typical NC markers, and develop into body pigment cells. These characters suggest that primordial NC cells were already present in the common ancestor of the vertebrates and urochordates, which have been recently inferred as sister groups. The primitive role of NCLC may have been in pigment cell dispersal and development. Later, additional functions may have appeared in the vertebrate lineage, resulting in the evolution of definitive NC cells.