The Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago, located close to the continental edge of the Kara Shelf in the Russian high Arctic, represents, together with northern Tajmyr, the exposed Neoproterozoic and Palaeozoic part of the North Kara Terrane. This terrane has been interpreted as an independent microcontinent or part of a larger entity, such as Arctida or Baltica, prior to collision with Siberia in Late Carboniferous time. A major stratigraphic break, the Kan'on (canyon) River Unconformity, separates folded Late Cambrian from Early Ordovician successions in one area, October Revolution Island. New geochronological U–Th–Pb ion-microprobe data on volcanic and intrusive rocks from this island constrain the age of an important magmatic episode in the earliest Ordovician. A tuff, in association with Tremadocian fossils, overlying the Kan'on River Unconformity, has been dated to 489.5 ± 2.7 Ma. The youngest rocks beneath the unconformity are of the Peltura minor Zone, and the latter has been dated previously, in western Avalonia, to 490.1+1.7−0.9 Ma. Thus, little time is available for the tectonic episode recorded by the unconformity, and the similarities in radiometric dates may indicate problems with the correlation of faunal markers for the Cambrian–Ordovician boundary across palaeo-continents. The other extrusive and intrusive rocks which have been related to Early Ordovician rifting in the Severnaya Zemlya area yield ages from 489 Ma to 475 Ma. An undeformed granite, cutting folded Neoproterozoic successions on neighbouring Bol'shevik Island has been dated to 342 ± 3.6 Ma and 343.5 ± 4.1 Ma (Early Carboniferous), in accord with evidence elsewhere of Carboniferous strata unconformably overlying the folded older successions. This evidence conflicts with the common interpretation that the structure of the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago originated during the collision of the North Kara Terrane with Siberia in Late Carboniferous time. An alternative interpretation is that Severnaya Zemlya was located in the Baltica foreland of the Caledonide Orogen and that the eastward-migrating deformation of the foreland basin reached the area of the archipelago in latest Devonian to Early Carboniferous time. This affinity of the North Kara Terrane to Baltica is further supported by 540–560 Ma xenocrysts in Ordovician intrusions on October Revolution Island, an age which is characteristic of the Timanide margin of Baltica.