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Pottery fragments have been found dating back to 1300–1100 B. Europeans did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands.

In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence.

An independence movement arose in the 1970s, and the Republic of Vanuatu was created in 1980.

Vanuatu's total area is (roughly 12,274 square kilometres (4,739 sq mi)) of which its land base is very limited (roughly 4,700 square kilometres (1,800 sq mi)); most of the islands are steep, with unstable soils, and little permanent freshwater.

One estimate (2005) is only 9% of land is used for agriculture (7% permanent crops, 2% arable land).

The nation's largest towns are the capital Port Vila, situated on Efate, and Luganville on Espiritu Santo.

The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1,879 metres (6,160 ft), on the island of Espiritu Santo.

Fourteen of Vanuatu's islands have surface areas of more than 100 square kilometres (39 sq mi).

From largest to smallest, these are Espiritu Santo, Malakula, Efate, Erromango, Ambrym, Tanna, Pentecost, Epi, Ambae or Aoba, Vanua Lava, Gaua, Maewo, Malo, and Anatom or Aneityum.

Geography Vanuatu is an island archipelago consisting of approximately 82 relatively small, geologically newer islands of volcanic origin (65 of them inhabited), with about 800 miles (1,300 km) north to south distance between the outermost islands.

Two of these islands (Matthew and Hunter) are also claimed by the French overseas department of New Caledonia.

The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is some 1,750 kilometres (1,090 mi) east of northern Australia, 500 kilometres (310 mi) northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and southeast of the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea. Europeans began to settle in the area in the late 18th century.

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