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"New Guinea" (Nueva Guinea) was the name coined by the Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez.
In 1545, he noted the resemblance of the people to those he had earlier seen along the Guinea coast of Africa.
It is also one of the most rural, as only 18 per cent of its people live in urban centres.
The country is one of the world's least explored, culturally and geographically.
Sweet potato largely supplanted the previous staple, taro, and resulted in a significant increase in population in the highlands.
Although by the late 20th century headhunting and cannibalism had been practically eradicated, in the past they were practised in many parts of the country as part of rituals related to warfare and taking in enemy spirits or powers.
The nation is an observer state in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN since 1976, and has already filed its application for full membership status.
Archaeological evidence indicates that humans first arrived in Papua New Guinea around 42,000 to 45,000 years ago.
The southern half of the country had been colonised in 1884 by the United Kingdom as British New Guinea.In contrast to establishing an Australian mandate in former German New Guinea, the League of Nations determined that Papua was an External Territory of the Australian Commonwealth; as a matter of law it remained a British possession.The difference in legal status meant that until 1949, Papua and New Guinea had entirely separate administrations, both controlled by Australia.These conditions contributed to the complexity of organising the country's post-independence legal system.During World War II, the New Guinea campaign (1942–1945) was one of the major military campaigns and conflicts between Japan and the Allies.