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Northern hunters: from 10,000 BC

During the most recent glacial period (see Ice Ages) the entire Scandinavian peninsula is under a sheet of ice. As the ice cap begins to withdraw, about 12,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers move north in pursuit of reindeer.

The living survivors of the hunter-gatherers in these regions are the Lapps (or the Samit, their own name for themselves), who today herd rather than hunt reindeer. Their language (in the Finno-Ugric family of the Ural-Altaic group) is related to that of the Finns who cross the Baltic in about AD 100 and push the Lapps north towards the Arctic. The Lapps are subject to the same pressure in Norway and Sweden, but there the tribes displacing them are Indo-Europeans speaking the Germanic group of languages.

Scandinavian prehistory: 2500-100 BC

Archaeology provides rich traces of Scandinavian prehistory, from the neolithic period (c.2500 BC) to the Bronze Age (c.1500 BC) and into the Iron Age (c.400 BC).

Objects found in tombs show strong trading links with the Celtic and Roman civilizations to the south. But the Scandinavian finds also include rarities preserved by the tannin in Danish peat bogs - among them a wooden cart and the bodies of sacrificial victims from about 2000 years ago, now in the National Museum in Copenhagen.

In the centuries immediately before the earliest written records (and therefore still within Scandinavian prehistory), the people of this northern peninsula feature prominently in the history of their southern neighbours - through their strong inclination to move away from home in warlike mood.

This applies first to the departure from Scandinavia of Goths, Vandals, Burgundians and others, from as early as the 2nd century BC. And it becomes true again 1000 years later, from the end of the 8th century AD, when the Vikings begin to stir.

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