Numerous distinct geological terranes compose the North American Cordillera1; there may be as many as 50 terranes in California alone2. Critical to deciphering the history of Cordilleran tectonic assembly is an understanding of the displacement history of individual terranes. It is therefore important to know: (1) whether a terrane has undergone significant motion with respect to the stable craton (that is, whether it is allochthonous or exotic); (2) if so, when relative motion started and stopped; (3) from where an individual terrane originated; and (4) the nature of interterrane movements. We consider here the problem of determining whether the now-juxtaposed Salinian and Stanley Mountain terranes of California became amalgamated at or near their present position with respect to cratonic North America, or if they collided at a considerable distance from their present positions and were later accreted to North America as a composite package. The palaeomagnetic data that we present indicate that the latter was the case. ?? 1982 Nature Publishing Group.