Placodermi is a class of armoured prehistoric fish, known from fossils, which lived from the Silurian to the end of the Devonian period. Their head and thorax were covered by articulated armoured plates and the rest of the body was scaled or naked, depending on the species. Placoderms were among the first jawed fish; their jaws likely evolved from the first of their gill arches. Placoderms are paraphyletic, and consist of several distinct outgroups or sister taxa to all living jawed vertebrates, which originated among their ranks. This is illustrated by a 419-million-year-old fossil, Entelognathus, from China, which is the only known placoderm with a type of bony jaw like that found in modern bony fishes. This includes a dentary bone, which is found in humans and other tetrapods. The jaws in other placoderms were simplified and consisted of a single bone. Placoderms were also the first fish to develop pelvic fins, the precursor to hindlimbs in tetrapods, as well as true teeth. Paraphyletic groupings are problematic, as one can not talk precisely about their phylogenic relationships, their characteristic traits and literal extinction. 380-million-year-old fossils of three other genera, Incisoscutum, Materpiscis and Austroptyctodus, represent the oldest known examples of live birth.
The placoderm claspers are not homologous with the claspers in cartilaginous fishes. The similarities between the structures has been revealed to be an example of convergent evolution. While the claspers in cartilaginous fishes are specialized parts of their paired pelvic fins that have been modified for copulation due to changes in the hox genes hoxd13, the origin of the mating organs in placoderms most likely relied on different sets of hox genes and were structures that developed further down the body as an extra and independent pair of appendages, but which during development turned into body parts used for reproduction only. Because they were not attached to the pelvic fins, as are the claspers in fish like sharks, they were much more flexible and could probably be rotated forward.
The first officially described and oldest Silurian placoderm is an antiarch, Shimenolepis, which is known from distinctively ornamented plates from the late Llandovery of Hunan, China. Shimenolepis plates are very similar to the early Devonian yunnanolepid Zhanjilepis, also known from distinctively ornamented plates.
Much later, the exquisitely preserved placoderm fossils from Gogo reef changed the picture again. They showed that placoderms shared anatomical features not only with chondrichthyians but with other gnathostome groups as well. For example, Gogo placoderms show separate bones for the nasal capsules as in gnathostomes; in both sharks and bony fish those bones are incorporated into the braincase.
Placoderms also share certain anatomical features only with the jawless osteostracans; because of this, the theory that placoderms are the sister group of chondrichthyians has been replaced by the theory that placoderms are a group of stem gnathostomes.