SUMMARY Heterochrony (differences in developmental timing between species) is a major mechanism of evolutionary change. However, the dynamic nature of development and the lack of a universal time frame makes heterochrony difficult to analyze. This has important repercussions in any developmental study that compares patterns of morphogenesis and gene expression across species. We describe a method that makes it possible to quantify timing shifts in embryonic development and to map their evolutionary history. By removing a direct dependence on traditional staging series, through the use of a relative time frame, it allows the analysis of developmental sequences across species boundaries. Applying our method to published data on vertebrate development, we identified clear patterns of heterochrony. For example, an early onset of various heart characters occurs throughout amniote evolution. This suggests that advanced (precocious) heart development arose in evolutionary history before endothermy. Our approach can be adapted to analyze other forms of comparative dynamic data, including patterns of developmental gene expression.