Melanesia (from Greek "black islands") is a region extending from the west Pacific to the Arafura Sea , north and north-east of Australia. The term was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands distinct from Polynesia and Micronesia. Today d'Urville's racial classification is considered inaccurate because it obscures Melanesia's cultural, linguistic, and genetic diversity and today is used simply as a convenient geographical label. Additionally, the nations of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia (which is legally a French dependency) use this term to describe themselves because it reflects their shared colonial history and common regional situation.
Various genetic studies of the Pacific people in combination with earlier archaeological evidence have now clarified much of the confusion. The Melanesian people have a Y chromosome marker, H17, that is not found in Polynesians. Lapita pottery is Melanesian in origin, and can be found on islands since occupied by other people. Melanesians are the oldest of the Pacific people, pre-dating others by tens of thousands of years. The Melanesian people, like the Australian Aborigines, with whom Papuan Melanesians share a common ancestry, arrived some forty to fifty thousand years BC.
There is great ethnic richness and diversity across Melanesia. Social status is generally based upon social skills and personal assets, whereas Polynesians use heredity to determine social status.
The following islands and groups of islands are traditionally considered part of Melanesia:
Islands of mixed ancestry which do not claim Melanesian status include: