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The earliest artifacts of human habitation in Norway come from the end of the last ice age and date back nearly 10,000 years. These Neolithic settlers survived by hunting and fishing for thousands of years, until Bronze Age Indo-Europeans brought farming to the region.
Norway's tribes were united into the region's first kingdom by Harald Fairhair in AD 872, and his heirs ruled Norway until 1319. During this time, the area that is now modern Norway became famous through the rise to power of the Vikings. Using their excellent seafaring knowledge and political organization, the Vikings quickly became renowned traders and warriors, with Viking raids feared all along the coasts of Europe, Great Britain, and Ireland. Far from simply pillaging though, Vikings also founded the modern-day Irish cities of Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford during this time period.
By 1200, Norway ruled over land from Man in the Irish Sea to the Kola Peninsula in the easternmost part of Scandanavia. Religious influence from Europe (especially Ireland) led to Norway's adoption of Christianity. Central in this conversion was King Olav Haraldsson, who was ruled beginning in AD 995.
In 1349, the Black Death decimated Norway, killing 50-60% of its population and leaving it in a period of social and economic decline. Although the death rate was comparable with the rest of Europe, recovery took much longer, given the country's small, scattered population. In 1397, Norway united with Denmark and Sweden under one king, an agreement known as the Kalmar Union. The union held until 1523, although Sweden broken from the union two years prior; Norway remained with Denmark until 1814. In the 19th century, this period became known as the "400-Year Night," referring to the manner in which Norway effectively acted as a tributary to Denmark.
When Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden in 1814, Norwegians took the opportunity to declared independence, igniting the Norwegian-Swedish War. Lacking the funds to support a protracted war, Norway eventually came under Sweden's power but achieved full independence in 1905.
Norway remained neutral during World War I and declared its neutrality in World War II, but was invaded by Germany in a surprise attack on April 9, 1940. Despite the lack of warning, the Norwegian military held off the Germans for two months, allowing the king and parliament, along with much of the Norwegian treasury, to escape to England where they kept up a formal resistance movement throughout the war. The resistance fought the German occupation through both civil disobedience and armed resistance including the destruction of Norsk Hydro's heavy water plant and the stockpile of heavy water at Vemork, which crippled the German nuclear program.
Post-war, Norway became a founding member of NATO and the United Nations. The first UN General Secretary, Trygve Lie, was a Norwegian. The discovery of oil and gas in adjacent waters in the late 1960s boosted Norway's economic fortunes. The current focus is on containing spending on the extensive welfare system and planning for the time when petroleum reserves are depleted. In referenda held in 1972 and 1994, Norway rejected joining the EU.