Mariana Islands, Micronesia

The early history of the Mariana Islands is shrouded in the mists of antiquity but it is believed that the islands were first settled around 3,000 B.C. by an ancient seafaring people, prehistoric "Stone Age Vikings", who journeyed in outrigger canoes and eventually lost their navigational skills and were marooned. It is believed that they sailed across the vast expanse of the open Pacific, north and eastward from southeast Asia, possibly from what is now known as Indonesia. The people, who became known as Chamorros, developed unique construction skills which permitted them to carve huge, mushroom-like capped pillars of stone from solid rock known today as Latte or Taga Stones. Their precise use remains one of the great mysteries of the Pacific to this day.

The Northern Marianas is the fastest growing area in Micronesia. The population has shot from just under 10,000 in 1970 to over 50,000 today, about half of which are resident aliens, mostly from the Philippines, China and Korea. Roughly 75% of the native population is Chamorro, the rest Carolinian. The local culture is a hybrid of native and Spanish colonial influences, with a powerful overlay of popular American trends. There's excellent diving and snorkelling on the islands.

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