In the pre-dynastic era, the area was inhabited since Paleolithic times. Some archeological sites date back several thousand years. The beginning of the Vietnamese population began in the early Bronze Age around 2000 to 1400 years BCE. Rice cultivation was later developed and the Dong Son culture was developed which was notable for its bronze drums. Many small copper mines have been found in North Vietnam.
The Hong Bang Dynasty is considered to be the first Vietnamese state, called Van Lang. In 111 BCE, the Chinese consolidated the Vietnamese into the Han Dynasty and ruled Vietnam for the next thousand years. By the early 10th century, Vietnam had gained autonomy over China by the Khuc family. In 938 CE, a Vietnamese lord Ngo Quyen defeated Chinese forces to gain independence. The Vietnamese were ruled under several dynasties.
Vietnam’s independence ended in the mid-1800s when the country was colonized by the French. The French administration imposed a Western-style of education and Christianity was introduced. A plantation economy was started to promote the export of tobacco, tea and coffee. There was increasing call for autonomy from the French who maintained control of the colonies until WWII.
In 1941, Viet Minh sought independence for Vietnam and established a provisional government in 1945. This triggered the first Indochina War, lasting until 1954. According to the Geneva Agreements, the country was divided at the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam. It was intended to be temporary, pending an election in 1956 that never took place.