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The Dwemer were Mer, and thus were related to other humanoid races such as the Dunmer (Dark Elves). Technically this means that they were elves, but they are instead referred to as dwarves, a fitting name considering their greater resemblance to dwarf races in other fiction.
The Dwemer were natives of the Morrowind region, mainly inhabiting Red Mountain initially but later spreading across Tamriel. They were a reclusive and industrious people, who shunned religion and valued technological innovation and secular philosophy. This led them to much conflict in Morrowind with the religious Chimer race until, at the height of a war between the Dwemer and a Chimer alliance led by Nerevar, every Dwemer in Tamriel spontaneously disappeared. It remains a mystery to Tamrielic historians how and why this occurred, but the event is mostly attributed to the Dwemer's meddling with the Heart of Lorkhan, an extremely powerful object said to be the heart of a god.
The only Dwemer remaining in existence after this was Yagrum Bagarn, who happened to be in Akavir at the time instead of in Tamriel. Bagarn appears in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and can share his knowledge about the Dwemer's fate with the player.
Despite the Dwemer's eradication, their legacy is still seen in the many impressive ruins they left behind, particularly in Vvardenfell. In Morrowind the player can often find valuable Dwemer artifacts in these ruins, including armor and weapons. Caution is required, though, as most are guarded by hostile ghosts and ancient Dwemer-built robots called Centurions, or by groups of criminals who use the ruins as hideouts.