The spinal cord of thoracic, lumbar and caudal levels is derived from a region designated as the sinus rhomboidalis in the 6-somite-stage embryo. Using quail/chick grafts performed in ovo, we show the following. (1) The floor plate and notochord derive from a common population of cells, located in Hensen's node, which is equivalent to the chordoneural hinge (CNH) as it was defined at the tail bud stage. (2) The lateral walls and the roof of the neural tube originate caudally and laterally to Hensen's node, during the regression of which the basal plate anlage is bisected by floor plate tissue. (3) Primary and secondary neurulations involve similar morphogenetic movements but, in contrast to primary neurulation, extensive bilateral cell mixing is observed on the dorsal side of the region of secondary neurulation. (4) The posterior midline of the sinus rhomboidalis gives rise to somitic mesoderm and not to spinal cord. Moreover, mesodermal progenitors are spatially arranged along the rest of the primitive streak, more caudal cells giving rise to more lateral embryonic structures. Together with the results reported in our study of tail bud development (Catala, M., Teillet, M.-A. and Le Douarin, N.M. (1995). Mech. Dev. 51, 51–65), these results show that the mechanisms that preside at axial elongation from the 6-somite stage onwards are fundamentally similar during the complete process of neurulation.