Many of the islands of Vanuatu have been inhabited for thousands of years, the oldest archaeological evidence found dates to 2000 BC. Vanuatu is one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth. With a population of approximately 272,000, the country boasts 113 distinct languages and innumerable dialects. This amazing diversity is a result of 4,000 years of sporadic immigration from many Pacific countries. Although most settlers arrived from Melanesia, the larger built, lighter skinned Polynesians also settled in the islands.
In 1605, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós became the first European to reach the islands, believing it to be part of Terra Australis. Europeans began settling the islands in the late 18th century, after British explorer James Cook visited the islands on his second voyage, and gave them the name New Hebrides.
In 1887, the islands began to be administered by a French-British naval commission. In 1906, the French and British agreed to an Anglo-French Condominium on the New Hebrides. During World War II, the islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo were used as allied military bases. In the 1960s, the ni-Vanuatu people started to press for self-governance and later independence; full sovereignty was finally granted by both European nations on July 30, 1980. Vanuatu joined the UN in 1981 and the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983.