Statue of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest

Why is the Evidence for the Outlaw Robin Hood as Elusive as the Man Himself?

(Read the article on one page)

The historic existence of the legendary English hero who ‘stole from the rich and gave to the poor’ is a perennial source of debate. Every few years, new evidence emerges of authenticity and possible identities of Robin and his friends/foes of Nottingham. Ancient Origins has already delved into the theories of the historic personage of Robin (or should we say Robert?). Now, we will broaden the scope to examine artifacts and skeletons that have been described as proof of the folk hero’s existence. Aside from possibly being connected to Robin Hood, the treasures themselves are generally rather ordinary (bows and arrows, crucifixes, some gold doubloons). However, their tendency to vanish makes each find a mini-legend in and of itself.

Friar Tuck’s Last Words

One of the most famous Robin Hood related finds was uncovered in the 1820s near Bolsover in Derbyshire. The local legend claims that two workers sinking a shaft for a new coalmine located Robin Hood’s Hideout. The story goes that as the two men dug, the wall of earth alongside gave way and revealed a cavern that bore signs of habitation. There was a distinctive fireplace area with wood ash as well as cooking pots and utensils lying nearby. In one corner, sacks and barrels seemed to be a store of provisions. Along another wall were lined numerous broadswords and bows, including a quiver still full of arrows. Finally, at the end of the gallery in a small nook was what appeared to be a tiny chapel area (a cross hung on the back wall). There, lying across a stone altar, the two men found a skeleton wrapped in a deteriorating woolen habit. In one hand he held a crucifix, in the other a chisel. On the wall just above his head, “a long list of names was roughly scratched on the cavern wall and painfully scored at the bottom was, ‘I was the last – Michael Tuck’” (White, 2017). Could this be Friar Tuck? Had he managed to evade capture and make it back to the hideout only to collapse and die? We will never know. As the two men left the cavern to return to the world above, the weakened shaft crumpled in a rock slide. The men just barely managed to escape with their lives but tons of stones reburied the shaft and the cavern. The local legend insists that the cave is still there, close to the site where the coalmine was eventually dug.

Friar Tuck by Henry Leverseege, (1802-1832)

Friar Tuck by Henry Leverseege, (1802-1832) ( Public Domain )

The Merry Men Murders

In a similar tale of lost treasure, workers digging in a garden uncovered six corpses that were supposedly victims of the Merry Men. According to an article published in a local Sheffield newspaper on April 23, 1796, the site was located at Fox-lane, not too far from Nottingham. They unearthed six human skeletons, all intact, lying side-by-side in an orderly fashion. According to a popular Robin Hood story, he and the Merry Men once killed 15 men of a rival forest gang because they failed to fulfill a wager after Robin won the archery contest fair and square. The last verse of the ballad proclaims, “They carried these foresters into fair Nottingham, as many there did know; They digged them graves in their church-yard and they buried them all in a row” (Nottingham Post, 2013).

Robin Hood with Sir Guy "Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band: Their Famous Exploits in Sherwood Forest", Louis Rhead.

Robin Hood with Sir Guy "Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band: Their Famous Exploits in Sherwood Forest", Louis Rhead. ( Public Domain )

The garden was believed to sit atop an ancient church, possibly dedicated to Saint Michael, which had been destroyed during the chaotic years of the Reformation. Unfortunately, “the proprietor of the garden ordered the pit where the bodies were found to be filled up, ‘being unwilling to disturb the relics of humanity and the ashes of the dead!’” (White, 2014). The site of this garden and the ancient St. Michael’s Church have never been rediscovered.

Little John’s Bow

The loss of treasured Robin Hood relics is not merely confined to former centuries ignorant of the importance of preservation. A massive longbow that is believed to have been Little John’s went missing in 2004. A black and white photograph of a man holding up the bow is now all that remains. In 1729, a long bow was discovered in Hathersage in Derbyshire, which according to legend is where Little John was buried. The bow was 6 feet 7 inches (2.04 meters) long and made of spliced yew tipped with horn. 160 pounds (72.6 kilograms) of force were needed to draw back an arrow. The bow hung in Cannon Hall in Barnsley from 1729 until the middle of the 20 th century when the last owner of the hall, Mrs. Elizabeth Frazer, died in the late 1960s. Mrs. Frazer’s intention was to donate Little John’s bow to the Wakefield Museum; however, her son instead took it to his manor house in Scotland. There it supposedly remained until Mr. Frazer’s death in 2004. Today, the whereabouts of the longbow are unknown.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Map of sites and postulated migratory pathways associated with modern humans dispersing across Asia during the Late Pleistocene.
Most people are now familiar with the traditional "Out of Africa" model: modern humans evolved in Africa and then dispersed across Asia and reached Australia in a single wave about 60,000 years ago. However, technological advances in DNA analysis and other fossil identification techniques, as well as an emphasis on multidisciplinary research

Ancient Technology

Detail of a star chart dating to the Middle Kingdom.
The calendar is one of mankind’s most important inventions. Calendars allowed societies to organize time for religious, social, economic, and administrative purposes. The calendar, or rather, two sets of calendars, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. One of these was a lunar calendar, which was used mainly for the organization of religious festivals.

Ancient Places

Smuts house
The farmstead of General Jan Smuts on the outskirts of Pretoria, is reputed to be one of the most haunted private homes in the country, according to Mr Mark Rose-Christie, raconteur and social scientist, who regularly takes brave visitors on a tour of haunted sites on his mystery ghost bus.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article