The discovery of a turtle in the Early Jurassic (185 million years before present) Kayenta Formation of northeastern Arizona provides significant evidence about the origin of modern turtles. This new taxon possesses many of the primitive features expected in the hypothetical common ancestor of pleurodires and cryptodires, the two groups of modern turtles. It is identified as the oldest known cryptodire because of the presence of a distinctive cryptodiran jaw mechanism consisting of a trochlea over the otic chamber that redirects the line of action of the adductor muscle. Aquatic habits appear to have developed very early in turtle evolution. Kayentachelys extends the known record of cryptodires back at least 45 million years and documents a very early stage in the evolution of modern turtles.