An old farmhouse at Bolkesjø, in Telemark, Norway. An 1844 painting by Adolph Tidemand. | Morten Thorkildsen - Nasjonalmuseet - CC BY.

An old farmhouse at Bolkesjø, in Telemark, Norway. An 1844 painting by Adolph Tidemand. | Morten Thorkildsen - Nasjonalmuseet - CC BY.

The old Norwegian farm | A result of landscape and climate

The Norwegian geography and climate have significant variations. The old Norwegian farm was always a result of its location, and the local availability of resources.

First hunter-gatherers – then farmers

The first humans to appear on the Scandinavian peninsula, came after the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago. They were nomadic or semi-nomadic hunters, fishers, and gatherers.

The first signs of Scandinavian agriculture appear around 2,400 BC, a way of life influenced by people living further south on the European continent.

The farmers settled in fixed locations, where they built permanent abodes for themselves and their livestock – and cleared land and cultivated the first fields.

A mix of main livelihoods

Throughout history, the Norwegian way of life was predominantly a mix of hunting, fishing, gathering, farming, and related livelihoods. The mix depended on where people lived, and the local geography and climate.

Even today, only 3.5% of Norway’s mainland is agricultural land, of which two-thirds are only suitable for haymaking and the grazing of livestock. The rest of Norway comprises forests, mountains, lakes and rivers, wetland, and rock.

Outside Norway’s long-stretched coastline is, of course, also the vast and resource-rich ocean.

Just like any other animal group, our ancestors established territories, areas where they could survive, live, and thrive, preferably for generations.

Depending on where they lived, each family group’s territory and way of life would be different:

  • The family on the soil-rich and relatively mild flatlands would mainly be farmers.
  • The family on the coast would often be fishers first, and farmers and gatherers second.
  • The family in the mountains and mountain valleys would often be a mix of hunters, fishers, gatherers, and livestock farmers.
  • Some people would be fishers, hunters, and gatherers only.
  • In more recent history, people would, of course, also be sailors, boat builders, traders, and so much more.

Imagine the home of your ancestors

Before the industrialisation of agriculture, forestry, and maritime activities, people harvested the land and the ocean as they found it; and through most of our history, with the use of remarkably simple tools. In many areas of Norway, remnants of the old ways lasted well into the 1900s.

Wealth for the generations that came before us was a house, food on the table, warm clothes, and the security of being part of a community.

Imagine yourself being inside the house, cabin, or hut that your ancestors once lived in, opening the door to look outside. The landscape that you see defined your people’s way of life.


By LA Dahlmann | My Norwegian heritage