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New Guinea shows human occupation since ~50 thousand years ago (ka), independent adoption of plant cultivation ~10 ka, and great cultural and linguistic diversity today. We performed genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism genotyping on 381 individuals from 85 language groups in Papua New Guinea and find a sharp divide originating 10 to 20 ka between lowland and highland groups and a lack of non–New Guinean admixture in the latter. All highlanders share ancestry within the last 10 thousand years, with major population growth in the same period, suggesting population structure was reshaped following the Neolithic lifestyle transition. However, genetic differentiation between groups in Papua New Guinea is much stronger than in comparable regions in Eurasia, demonstrating that such a transition does not necessarily limit the genetic and linguistic diversity of human societies.