It is widely accepted that Meckel's cartilage in mammals is uncalcified hyaline cartilage that is resorbed and is not involved in bone formation of the mandible. We examined the spatial and temporal characteristics of matrix calcification in Meckel's cartilage, using histochemical and immunocytochemical methods, electron microscopy and an electron probe microanalyser. The intramandibular portion of Meckel's cartilage could be divided schematically into anterior and posterior portions with respect to the site of initiation of ossification beneath the mental foramen. Calcification of the matrix occurred in areas in which alkaline phosphatase activity could be detected by light and electron microscopy and by immunohistochemical staining. The expression of type X collagen was restricted to the hypertrophic cells of intramandibular Meckel's cartilage, and staining with alizarin red and von Kossa stain revealed that calcification progressed in both posterior and anterior directions from the primary centre of ossification. After the active cellular resorption of calcified cartilage matrix, new osseous islands were formed by trabecular bone that intruded from the perichondrial bone collar. Evidence of such formation of bone was supported by results of double immunofluorescence staining specific for type I and type II collagens, in addition to results of immunostaining for osteopontin. Calcification of the posterior portion resembled that in the anterior portion of intramandibular Meckel's cartilage, and our findings indicate that the posterior portion also contributes to the bone formation of the mandible by an endochondral-type mechanism of calcification.