Things, from the Old Norse "þing", are early assemblies found throughout Northern Europe. They have been described as the Viking cradle of democracy because their establishment was an early attempt to introduce a representative system, allowing disputes to be settled in a neutral forum rather than by blood feud and violence alone.
Shetland’s parliament was located on a promontory at the north end of Tingwall Loch, known as Tingaholm (or Lawting Holm). Officials are thought to have sat around a rough stone table on the holm, while delegates gathered on the slope below the church. During poor weather the thing probably met inside the church.
It was in use until the late 16th century. Documents relating to meetings begin in 1307, but the only reference to the thing meeting on the holm comes from a letter dated 1532.
Tingaholm was once an islet entirely surrounded by water and accessed by a stone causeway. In the 1850s the water levels in the loch were lowered, and the holm evolved into its present form. By 1774 the stone seats had been removed in order to make space for grazing, but the remains of the causeway can still be seen today.
Excavations identified Iron-Age remains on the holm, but nothing distinctively Viking. However, meetings may have left little physical trace behind.
In the 1570s, Earl Robert Stewart moved the thing to Scalloway, although the site was used once more in 1577 when over 700 Shetlanders came to make complaints against the local Foud, Lawrence Bruce, to royal commissioners from Edinburgh.