The Mariana Islands (also the Marianas) are a crescent-shaped archipelago comprising the summits of fifteen mostly dormant volcanic mountains in the western North Pacific Ocean, between the 12th and 21st parallels north and along the 145th meridian east. They lie south-southeast of Japan, west-southwest of Hawaii, north of New Guinea and east of the Philippines, demarcating the Philippine Sea's eastern limit. They are found in the northern part of the western Oceanic sub-region of Micronesia, and are politically divided into two U.S. jurisdictions: the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and, at the southern end of the chain, the territory of Guam.
The islands were named after Queen Mariana by Spaniards, who first arrived in the early 16th century and who eventually annexed and colonized the archipelago. The indigenous inhabitants are the Chamoru. Archaeologists in 2013 reported findings which indicated the people who first settled the Marianas arrived there after making what was at that time the longest uninterrupted ocean voyage in human history. They further reported findings which suggested that Tinian is likely to have been the first island in Oceania to have been settled by humans.
The Northern Mariana Islands, officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI; Chamorro: Sankattan Siha Na Islas Mariånas), is one of five inhabited American insular areas. It is one of two territories with US "commonwealth" status; the other is Puerto Rico. It consists of fifteen islands in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The CNMI and Guam together comprise the Marianas archipelago.
The United States Department of the Interior cites a landmass of 183.5 square miles (475.26 km2). According to the 2010 United States Census, 53,883 people were living in the CNMI at that time. The vast majority of the population resides on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. The other islands of the Northern Marianas are sparsely inhabited; the most notable among these is Pagan, which for various reasons over the centuries has experienced major population flux but has formerly had residents numbering in the thousands.
The administrative center is Capitol Hill, a village in northwestern Saipan. Because the island is governed as a single municipality, most publications consider Saipan the capital.