During the Bronze Age, the people living in Norway shifted from being nomadic or seminomadic to having permanent settlements. Some of the camp sites that were regularly used became permanent settlements and farms. These, in turn, gradually developed into hamlets and villages as the population grew and the original farm was divided into several farms.
Place names and the location of settlements in the landscape are important sources that help to explain the earliest history of settlement in the countryside. The first settlements or farms have names associated with the landscape, and they generally had prominent locations. Dale (dal = valley) was the name of the original farm from which both Norddal and Eidsdal, two modern settlements beside Norddalsfjord, grew. Dale has a strategic position on a high sand and gravel terrace, easily visible from the fjord. Undredal and Dyrdal in the Nærøyfjord area are corresponding examples of early settlements.
Farm names reflecting ancient forms of farming generally indicate Early Iron Age farms established during the Celtic Iron Age or Early Roman Period. Gjørva and Vinje, two farms in Geiranger, include the syllable –vin, which means a flat area or a clearing in woodland, which was used for grazing (cf. the German gewonne = cultivated fields). Maråk, another farm in Geiranger, which directly translated means ‘the field by the sea’, is a similar, old name. These farms also stand on high terraces with fine views of the fjord.
Few graves from the early part of the period have been found in the Norddal-Geiranger area. A richly-furnished grave dating from the Roman Period or the Migration Period of the Early Iron Age has been found at Veiberg in Eidsdal, and a large barrow survives at Vinje in Geiranger.
In the Migration Period, it seems there was no longer space for further expansion in outer coastal districts, where land suitable for farming was limited relative to the growth in the population that apparently took place as the Iron Age progressed. As available land in the middle part of the fjord districts also became occupied, people moved on to the innermost arms of the fjords in search of land to cultivate. Since the good agricultural areas in Eidsdal, Norddal and Geiranger were already well established, judging by the richly furnished graves found there, the new immigrants had to clear areas that were marginal for agriculture. Place names related to the Viking Period confirm this. Farms containing –set in their name were originally transhumance summer dairy farms that eventually became permanently occupied. Engeset and Furset in Norddal, and Årset, Haugset and Ørjasæter in Geiranger are such examples.