Island group, South Pacific Ocean. A subdivision of Oceania, it lies northeast of Australia and south of the Equator and includes New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands, the Bismarck and Louisiade archipelagoes, the Solomon Islands, the Santa Cruz Islands, New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Norfolk Island, and numerous others. Two distinct populations and cultures exist in the region. The Papuans, who have inhabited the area for 40,000 years, devised one of the earliest agricultural systems and developed the Papuan languages. Seafaring peoples with an Austronesian language and a Southeast Asian cultural tradition settled in the area about 3,500 years ago.
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