It lies around 1300 km northeast of Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean, in the centre of the geologically active 'Rim of Fire.' Like many other island groups in the Pacific, the Marquesas Islands were created by an underlying oceanic hotspot.
A hotspot is generally found beneath the ocean's crust, and is fed by convective heat rising through the Earth's mantle. This heat melts the magma, which gets forced out through fractures in the oceanic crust and undersea volcanoes
Current thinking is that the islands and seamounts of the Marquesas were formed between 2.5-1.5 million years ago. They consist of two island groupings - North and South.
Scientists tracking the progress of the the islands over the hotspot believe that the southeastern cluster of islands are the youngest, most recently formed. It's thought that the Marquesas hotspot plume could still be active underwater.
The islands have been sculpted by erosion into dramatic landscapes with deep, narrow valleys separated by steep ridges that radiate from the eroded summits of the volcanos.
The culture and identity of the settlers of the Marquesas have been shaped by this unusual, and rather inhospitable, topography.