Although spiral waves are ubiquitous features of nature and have been observed in many biological systems, their existence and potential function in mammalian cerebral cortex remain uncertain. Using voltage-sensitive dye imaging, we found that spiral waves occur frequently in the neocortex in vivo, both during pharmacologically induced oscillations and during sleep-like states. While their life span is limited, spiral waves can modify ongoing cortical activity by influencing oscillation frequencies and spatial coherence and by reducing amplitude in the area surrounding the spiral phase singularity. During sleep-like states, the rate of occurrence of spiral waves varies greatly depending on brain states. These results support the hypothesis that spiral waves, as an emergent activity pattern, can organize and modulate cortical population activity on the mesoscopic scale and may contribute to both normal cortical processing and to pathological patterns of activity such as those found in epilepsy.