History of Norway - Prehistory

Prehistory

Norway's coastline rose from glaciation with the end of the last glacial period about 12,000 BC. The first immigration took place during this period as the Norwegian coast offered good conditions for sealing, fishing and hunting. They were nomadic and by 9300 BC they were at Magerøya. Increased ice receding from 8000 BC caused settlement along the entire coastline. The Stone Age consisted of the Komsa culture in Troms and Finnmark and the Fosna culture further south. The Nøstvet culture took over from the Fosna culture ca. 7000 BC, which adapted to a warmer climate which gave increased forestation and new mammals for hunting. Ca. 4000 BC people in the north started using slate tools, earthenware, skis, sleds and large skin boats.

The first farming and thus the start of the Neolithic period, began ca. 4000 BC around the Oslofjord, with the technology coming from southern Scandinavia. The break-through occurred between 2900 and 2500 BC, when oats, barley, pigs, cattle, sheet and goats became common and spread as far north as Alta. This period also saw the arrival of the Corded Ware culture, who brought new weapons, tools and the Indo-European language, from which the Norwegian language developed. The Bronze Age started in 1800 BC and involved innovations such as plowing fields with ards, permanents farms with houses and yards, especially in the fertile areas around the Oslofjord, Trondheimsfjord, Mjøsa and Jæren. Some yields were so high that it allowed farmers to trade furs and skins for luxury items, especially with Jutland. Ca. 1000 BC Finno-Ugric arrived in the north and assimilated with the indigenous population becoming the Sami people.

A climate shift with colder weather starting about 500 BC. The forests, which had previously consisted of elm, lime, ash and oak, were replaced with birch, pine and spruce. The climate changes also meant that farmers started building more structures for shelter. Knowledge of iron was introduced by Celts, resulting in better weapons and tools. The Iron Age allowed for easier cultivation and thus new areas were cleared as the population grew with the increased harvests. A new social structure evolved: when sons married, they would remain in the same house; such an extended family was a clan. They would offer protection from other clans; if conflicts arose, the issue would be decided at at thing, a sacred place where all freemen from the surrounding area would assemble and could determine punishments for crimes, such as paying fines in food.

From the first century AD a cultural influence from the Roman Empire took place. Norwegians adapted letters and created their own alphabet, runes. Trading with Romans also took place, largely furs and skins in exchange for luxury goods. Some Scandinavians also served as Roman mercenaries. Some of the most powerful farmers became chieftains. They functioned as priests and accepted sacrifices from farmers which were again used to pay soldiers, creating a hird. Thus they were able to rule an area of several settlements and tribes. The chieftains' power increased during the Migration Period between 400 to 550 as Germanic tribes migrated northwards and local farmers wanted protection. This also resulted in the construction of simple fortifications. A plague hit southern Norway in the 6th century, with hundreds of farms being depopulated. Most were repopulated in the 7th century, which also saw the construction of several fishing hamlets and a boom in trade of iron and soapstone across the North Sea. Some chieftains were able to control most of the trade and grew in power throughout the 8th century.

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