Reconstruction of a Viking meeting by Jonathan Hart

Vikings Used Sherwood Forest Long Before It Was Known as the Hideout of Robin Hood


A team of archaeologists has made a significant discovery at an ancient monument which served as a Viking meeting point in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, England. Archaeologists stated that the newly found ruins mark the site of ‘Thing’ or Thynghowe of great archaeological significance not only nationally, but internationally as well.

Vikings Used Ancient Monument Way Before Robin Hood Makes it Famous

The new discovery suggests that long before legendary figure Robin Hood was hiding in Sherwood Forest, Vikings held their most important meetings there.  The site, known as a Thynghowe, is at the top of Hanger Hill, on the boundary of the Budby, Warsop and Edwinstowe parishes, and on the edge of Birklands wood.

The Thynghowe was discovered by local residents Stuart Reddish and Lynda Mallett in 2004, who have since founded the community action group The Friends of Thynghowe. Over a decade later, Mercian’s Geophysical Magnetometer Survey findings are putting a spotlight on their discovery, opening a window for new study and further examination of the Viking influence in Sherwood. “It was the group, their drive and passion, who have helped to find and protect this site,” archaeologist Andy Gaunt of Mercian Archaeological Services told Observer.

Consequently Gaunt explains how these meetings worked, “It’s where they [Vikings] signed laws, settled disputes and all sorts of things like that. The ‘thing site’ is definitely where they’d meet and where they would hold assemblies. And, if we’re correct, they would’ve stood within the circle and discussed laws and the question of the day, and then they’d pronounce the verdict from the top of the hill from the ‘thing mound’. That’s how it might have worked,” he says according to a report from local news site Notts TV.

A scan of the Viking meeting point in Sherwood Forest.

A scan of the Viking meeting point in Sherwood Forest. Credit: Mercian Archaeological Services CIC

The Ancient Parliamentary Plains of Iceland

Only a handful of ‘Thing sites’ have been found all over the Viking world: in Dublin, the Isle of Man and the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands and Iceland – arguably the most famous Viking Thing Site.

Also known as the country’s first parliament, the Althingi (literally meaning the all thing, or general assembly), is over a thousand years old. As reported in a previous Ancient Origins article, the Althingi was founded in 930 AD and was originally used for the general assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth.

Þingvellir National Park, iceland .

Þingvellir National Park, iceland . Photo source: UNESCO.

These assemblies were conducted at Þingvellir (the ‘assembly fields’ or ‘Parliament Plains’), which is in the south western part of the island. The gatherings typically lasted for two weeks in June, which was a period of uninterrupted daylight, and had the mildest weather. During these meetings, the country’s most powerful leaders would decide on legislation and dispense justice. At the center of the assembly was the Lögberg, or Law Rock. This was a rocky outcrop which the Lawspeaker, the presiding official of the assembly, took his seat. This Lawspeaker was an important national official, and was elected for a three-year term as the chairman of the lögrétta (legislative or law council). Among other duties, the Lawspeaker had to announce publicly the laws that were passed by the lögrétta.

The Law Rock, where the world’s first every Parliament congregated.

The Law Rock, where the world’s first every Parliament congregated. Image source 

Despite the prestige that went along with this position, the Lawspeaker had, in reality, little or no official power. Thus, the Lawspeaker may be comparable to the Speakers of modern day parliaments. Serious matters of government were not the only items on the agenda. The general assembly was in fact also the main social event of the year. Hundreds of Icelanders of all professions, including farmers, traders and craftsmen, would converge on the Axe River which ran through the Þingvellir. During the two weeks that the general assembly was in session, friendships were formed and broken, news and information were passed on from one person to another, disputes were settled, and business would have been transacted. The gathering would almost certainly have had a festival-like atmosphere to it.

Vikings marching to Althing, the world's oldest parliament established in Thingvellir in AD 930.

Vikings marching to Althing, the world's oldest parliament established in Thingvellir in AD 930. Image by Marja.

The Viking Meeting Point in Sherwood Forest is Unique

An excited Gaunt, however, argues that the Viking meeting point in Sherwood Forest is different than the rest in its own way, “The level of preservation makes it a pristine. There’s not really an equivalent. We can stand on that hill and know we’re standing where Vikings stood. There are not many places in the U.K. where you can say that,” he told Observer.  And adds: “Its hugely important archaeological remains could have been lost forever and have remained unknown and unrecorded.”

Ultimately, Gaunt clarified that the next step for the Mercian and the Friends of Thynghowe team is to wait patiently for the results of further scientific examination of the finds from local universities, and then to conduct a wide study where more experts can participate, while everyone who’s fascinated by Viking history will get a chance to learn more about Viking legacy in Sherwood. “This is the Viking part of the story of Sherwood Forest,” he told Observer adding that between the Saxons and Medieval period, Thynghowe provides “another layer of that magical story.”

Top image: Reconstruction of a Viking meeting by jonathan_hart

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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