Asia & Oceania
Asia is the largest and most populous continent in the world, sharing borders with Europe and Africa to its West, Oceania to its South, and North America to its East. Asia is often divided into culturally and geographically similar regions. The regions of Asia include West Asia (which is part of the Middle East), the Caucasus (sometimes also considered as part of the Middle East), Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia (also called the Indian Subcontinent), and Southeast Asia.
Due to its immense size and diverse populations, it is nearly impossible to offer a unified history of Asia. The continent is the birthplace of nearly all major religions in the world today, as well as a vast number of technological and civilizational advancements. West Asia is at times called the “Cradle of Civilization,” as it was here that Neolithic humans first began its transition from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle, inventing the wheel and basic agriculture in order to do so. The West Asia was also home to the first known human civilizations, such as Ancient Sumer and the ancient Assyrian, Babylonian, and Akkadian empires. Meanwhile, the Indus Valley Civilization (or Harappan Civilization) was the first known civilization formed in South Asia, and in East Asia the Xia Dynasty would be the first recorded account of Ancient China.
Asia’s immense size lends itself to a variety of different geographical landscapes, depending on its region. West Asia has some of the highest temperatures on the planet as a result of its warm desert climate. Inversely, Asia is also home to the coldest weather in the populated world (excluding Antarctica). South Asia has a mixture of the monsoon weather which lends itself to such heavy precipitation along with tropical savannas with intense heat. Much of continental Southeast Asia has a savannah climate similar to some of the drier parts of South Asia, while its island portions between Asia and Oceania are distinct for their tropical rainforests.
The various climates of Asia also allow it to have many different geographical features, such as mountains, rivers, and deserts. The Himalayas, is the tallest mountain range in the world and its highest peak, Mount Everest, is the tallest mountain on Earth. The longest river in Asia is actually the Yangtze River, which measures at 1,790 miles (2,880 kilometers) in length. The Syrian and Arabian Deserts of West Asia count among the world’s largest deserts, as does the Gobi Desert between China and Mongolia, in Central Asia. It is also worth noting that many of these massive landscapes are actually the underlying causes of Asia’s various weather patterns.
The largest continent on Earth, Asia’s total size is roughly 17,212,048 square miles (44,579,000 square kilometers), or 30% of the planet’s total landmass. The largest countries of Asia include Russia, China, India and Kazakhstan. Asia’s smallest countries are Maldives, Singapore, Bahrain and Brunei.
Asia’s immense mountain ranges, varied coastline, and vast continental plains and basins have had a profound effect on the course of human history. The fact that Asia produces vast quantities of fossil fuels-petroleum, natural gas, and coal, in addition to being a significant contributor to the global production of many minerals (e.g., about three-fifths of the world’s tin) heavily underlines the importance of its geology for the welfare of the world’s population.
With a population of roughly 4.5 billion, or 60% of the global population, Asia is by far the most populated continent on the planet. Asia is the birthplace of all the world’s major religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and of many minor ones. Islam is followed by about 1.1 billion people, making it the most popular religion in Asia. Asia is home to a staggering number of languages ranging from local tongues spoken by only a few inhabitants to international languages used in entire regions. Regarding international languages, the most widely spoken language on the continent is Mandarin.
Oceania is the smallest continental grouping in land area and the second smallest, after Antarctica, in population.
Oceania, collective name for the islands scattered throughout most of the Pacific Ocean. The term, in its widest sense, embraces the entire insular region between Asia and the Americas. A more common definition excludes the Ryukyu, Kuril, and Aleutian islands and the Japan archipelago. The most popular usage delimits Oceania further by eliminating Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines, because the peoples and cultures of those islands are more closely related historically to the Asian mainland. Oceania then, in its most restricted meaning, includes more than 10,000 islands, with a total land area (excluding Australia, but including Papua New Guinea and New Zealand) of approximately 317,700 square miles (822,800 square km).
The prehistory of Oceania is divided into the prehistory of each of its major areas: Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Australasia, and these vary greatly as to when they were first inhabited by humans—from 70,000 years ago (Australasia) to 3,000 years ago (Polynesia).
Oceania, when compared to continental regions, is the smallest in land area and covers an area of 8,525,989 square kilometres (3,291,903 sq mi).
Oceania has traditionally been divided into four parts: Australasia (Australia and New Zealand), Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. As recently as 33,000 years ago no human beings lived in the region, except in Australasia. Although disagreeing on details, scientists generally support a theory that calls for a Southeast Asian origin of island peoples. By 2000 about 12 million islanders lived in Oceania (excluding Australia), and many indigenous cultures were revolutionized by intensive contact with non-Oceanic groups who had intruded from various parts of the Western world.
The climate of Oceanias islands is tropical or subtropical, and ranges from humid to seasonally dry. Wetter parts of the islands are covered by tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, while the drier parts of the islands, including the leeward sides of the islands and many of the low coral islands, are covered by tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests and tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands. Hawaiis high volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, are home to some rare tropical montane grasslands and shrublands.
Oceania is the second smallest in population, after Antarctica (40 million). The predominant religion in Oceania is Christianity (73%). Other religions in the region include Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, which are prominent minority religions in Australia and New Zealand. Judaism, Sikhism and Jainism are also present. Native languages of Oceania fall into three major geographic groups:
The large Austronesian language family, with such languages as Malay (Indonesian), and Polynesian languages such as Maori and Hawaiian.
The Aboriginal Australian languages, including the large Pama–Nyungan family.
The Papuan languages of New Guinea and neighbouring islands, including the large Trans–New Guinea family.
Colonial languages include English in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and many other territories; French in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, Japanese in the Bonin Islands, Spanish on Easter Island. There are also Creoles formed from the interaction of Malay or the colonial languages with indigenous languages.