Prehistory and early history

Archaeological evidence testifies to the presence from an early date of hunter-gatherer settlements in the south-east region of Østfold, close to the Swedish border. Settlements of a similar type have been discovered in Sweden and Denmark.

The transition to agriculture began in around 4000-3000 BCE, initially in the area around the Oslo Fjord. By the Bronze Age (1500-500 BCE) farming was widespread across what is now southern Norway, but archaeological finds of the same period from north Norway testify to the continued predominance of hunter-gatherer lifestyles in that area.

By the early years of the first millennium CE, trade with countries to the south was thriving. Vessels of silver, bronze and glass have been discovered, along with some of the earliest decipherable runic inscriptions which indicate that the art of writing was also practised in the Nordic countries at this time. The existence of farms in more marginal areas by at least 500 CE has led many scholars to suggest that settlement in the fertile lowland regions of western Scandinavia had by this time already begun to reach saturation point. Over the next few centuries increased competition for land led inevitably to militarisation, paving the way for the Viking era.