New Siberian Islands, Russia

During the early 1800s, Russian merchant and trapper Yakov Sannikov claimed to have seen a new land north of Kotelny Island. The legend of this mysterious “Sannikov Land” inspired numerous expeditions, many of which met tragic ends. What Sannikov actually spotted was this vast and frigid archipelago, comprising three island groups spread across 14,500 square miles between the Laptev and East Siberian seas. The New Siberians, which are covered in permafrost, have provided some of the most significant and well-preserved fossil ivory deposits on the planet. Copious woolly mammoth bones — including entire skeletons — have been found along the islands’ beaches and riverbeds, along with the remains of rhinoceros, horse, buffalo, and saiga antelope. The melting permafrost also has revealed the world’s northernmost Paleolithic settlement, the Taba-Yuryakh site on Kotelny. Today’s inhabitants include such fauna as arctic foxes, reindeer, polar bears and lemmings, along with abundant birdlife during summer months.