What Is Asia's Archipelago?

asia-s-archipelago Credit: Nora Carol Photography/Moment/Getty Images

The archipelago of Asia forms the largest group of islands in the world and is called the Malay Archipelago. The archipelago is made up of 17,000 islands belonging to Indonesia, 7,000 belonging to the Philippines and the island of New Guinea.

The Malay Archipelago, also known as the East Indies, stretches for more than 6,000 kilometers from end-to-end. The archipelago can be broken down into three distinct parts: the Sunda Shelf, the Sahul Shelf and an area between the two where tectonic activity occurs. Most of the Malay Archipelago is within 10 degrees of the Equator, with the exception being the Philippines, and the climate of the region is warm. Average temperatures within the archipelago are around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The region also experiences severe monsoon weather, with rainfall reaching 320 inches in some places.

Many of the inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago emigrated to the region from Southern China more than 4,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe that the Philippines was the first area to be inhabited, and from there the population spread to what is now called Indonesia and Malaysia. In modern times, many of the economies of the Malay Archipelago are rural based with an emphasis on agriculture. Key natural resources of the archipelago are rice and corn, as well as timber and oil.