Rotherwas Ribbon – A Bronze Age Site ‘Unique In Europe’

Although details are as yet relatively sketchy, the BBC are carrying this story on their Radio 4 news of a structure dating back 4,000 years, that has been uncovered at Rotherwas in Herefordshire, which is described as being unique in Europe…

The ‘Rotherwas Ribbon’ is a snake-shaped area of fire-cracked stones which date back to the same period of Stonehenge – that’s the early Bronze Age, about 2,000 BC.

Archaeologists believe this major find may have no parallels in Europe, with the closest similar artefact being the 2,000-year-old serpent mounds of the Ohio river valley in America.

It’s been deliberately laid and runs at the base of Dinedor Hill – north to south at a right angle across the planned route for the new Rotherwas Access Road.

The archaelogists have been working very closely with McAlpine who are building the road for the council and detailed plans have been drawn up to encase the find and preserve it within a protective structure beneath the new road.

The team of archaelogists think it’s been built in a series of opposing curves using stones which were taken from a ridge half a mile away and shattered by being heated by fire and then dropped into water.

To the naked eye it looks like a giant mosaic, similar to a cobbled street and archaelogists think that it may have been used in some kind of ritual or ceremonial activity.

Dr Keith Ray… says it’s a very exciting find not just for Herefordshire, and not just for the UK, but, apparently so far unique in Europe – it has international significance.

From what I can gather, the structure is set onto the side of a steep hill, and a series of burnt timber posts have also been discovered, whilst nearby have been found the traces of timber framed round-houses, indicating the area was settled and significant long before the Romans arrived there.

Although it’s interesting to hear it compared to the Serpent Mound in Ohio, there is a considerable gap in time between the two sites, as the Serpent Mound is currently thought to have been constructed as recently as 1070 AD, after the radiocarbon dating of material found inside the mound; but there was one striking similarity, as evidenced by the burnt stones described below…

Other studies indicate that features of Serpent Mound are aligned with both the summer solstice sunset and, less clearly, the winter solstice sunrise. A pile of burned stones once located inside the oval head area was several feet northwest of its center, possibly to make a more precise alignment with the point of the “V” in the serpent’s “neck” and the summer solstice sunset. The A.D. 1070 date coincides roughly with two extraordinary astronomical events. Light from the supernova that produced the Crab Nebula first reached Earth in 1054 and remained visible, even during the day, for two weeks. The brightest appearance ever of Halley’s Comet was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1066. Could Serpent Mound have been a Native American response to such celestial events? “It is impossible to test whether or not the effigy mound represents a fiery serpent slithering across the sky,” says Lepper, “but it is fun to speculate.”

I’m not sure if there’s a direct link between the heated and broken stones from Rotherwas, and the burnt stones of the Serpent Mound, especially given the 3,000-year gap and physical distance between the two sites, but snakes or serpents in religions of these approximate eras do seem to have been present at different locations separated by large geographical distances, as this report on pre-Islamic Persian Gulf religion indicates.

Further archaeological work around the Rotherwas site looks set to continue, and hopefully there will be a proper story with more detail written up in the near future, as well as more images to add some clarification to the lay-out and overall design. (TJ)

Update 11/07/07 – I received an email today from English Heritage Chief Executive Simon Thurley, via Moira Thomson, who kindly responded to an email I sent as part of a petition run from Rob Hattersley’s ‘Save The Rotherwas Ribbon’ site (aka the Dinedor Serpent), and here’s the body of the message…

Thank you for your email correspondence about the recent discoveries at Rotherwas. English Heritage has, indeed, been informed about the discovery and have been liaising closely with local authority colleagues. Arrangements were made to visit the site on the 9 July 2007 and consideration will be given to the best way of ensuring preservation in situ of the remains. Our Heritage Protection Department is also considering whether the site meets the criteria for designation under the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act.

Although of course nothing has yet been decided, the signs are in my opinion, encouraging, although there does seem to be objection, unsurprisingly, from the people who want to build the road – commercial interests often clash with archaeology, but if the government rejected a funding application in response to Hereford Council, it would appear that the commercial benefits of building the access road would be less than spectacular. More comment will appear in a later post on this site.

Here also is an earlier Press Release from EH, written before their most recent, July 9th visit to Rotherwas/Dinedor…

This certainly appears to be a very exciting discovery from the Bronze Age, which includes a deliberately laid fire-cracked stone surface and posts. Each part of the find is very fragile and it would be difficult to move it. Also, by keeping the remains in their context, they can help us understand how people used to live in that landscape setting. Therefore we agree with the local authority that the best way to preserve the remains is to keep them in situ.

English Heritage inspectors will visit the site again on Monday (July 9th) and will liaise with the local authority to assess how best to fully define and date the site. This process will include a consideration of the importance of the site and whether or not it should be scheduled. We are satisfied with the way the local authority has handled the discovery and we will continue to work with it, making sure that all aspects of the find will be fully recorded and that it has access to our expertise in this process.

July 5th 2007

see also: BBC News: (includes short video) Workers Discover Ancient ‘Snake’

Megalithic Portal – “Rotherwas Ribbon, Ancient Trackway In Herefordshire

19 thoughts on “Rotherwas Ribbon – A Bronze Age Site ‘Unique In Europe’

  1. I live about 2 miles from where the relief road is being built and am very interested in historical finds in my area. Hereford council is renowned (locally) for pulling down ancient buildings in favour of new ones and disregarding important finds to build a road on. If this is such a ‘unique’ find, why are they still going to build a road over a portion of it?

  2. Yes, interesting site. I was there a few weeks ago. I am a geologist and while looking at some exposures on the new road was asked to look at this one to establish where the materials had come from. The source is described as Wye Terrace Number4 but actually they are cryoturbated glacial deposits. I am not expert at this geology so can’t say much more. All I could do was confirm the origin of the materials used in the site.

  3. A first in Europe? One needs a look at my gggrandfather’s book “Worship of the Serpent traced throughout the world….” by John Bathurst Deane (1830). He spends some time explaining how Avebury’s avenues are landscape serpents. .. It’s hard reading but his hypothesis is that: Serpent story in Eden represents fall of man, serpent worship appears throughout the world, therefore all humanity started in Eden. Nutty!

  4. Thanks for the link Rob, I’ll check that out more fully in a moment – it makes me wonder exactly where English Heritage stand on such matters, and why we haven’t heard of any interventions instigated by them – hopefully they’re on the case by now.

    And thanks too Ross, for the additional info on the book – snake religion seems to have pervaded much of the ancient world at various stages – the earliest site that is suggestive of such practice is Rhino Cave in Botswana at 70,000 bp, and I hope to post something on that in due course.

    Tim

  5. oops, I didn’t initially see the comment from Alex and RG.

    Re the local council having a cavalier attitude to relics from the past, I find it hard to believe that any Council in its right mind wouldn’t immediately step into protect such a site. I’m not sure whether they’re intending to just cover up the part of the structure that is in the path of the proposed road, and protecting the rest, or just leaving it to fend for itself, so to speak – I need to read up on this some more – also, Rob’s comment contains a good link to the shenanigans surrounding this.

    rg – not sure if you know, but if you live locally, I think there is an opportunity for the public to visit the site on Saturday afternoon – please see link to BBC report in this post for details.

    Tim

  6. As a historian, I am amazed and very excited by this discovery, whgich obviously is extremely significant. All possible steps MUST be taken to preserve this so that it can be seen, and not be hidden away. The road should be diverted or built elsewhere, so that further archaeological work can continue. This is hugely important.

    My husband, the Rev’d David Staple, OBE is in complete agreeement – we hope to be able to visit the site and see the finds when we next visit the area in August.

    Margaret Staple

  7. The gravels may be 100,000 years old, 4 Ice Ages back, and are not the gravels described as Wye Terrace 4. They are glacial and not water deposits so that the book will have to be re- written in terms of local Quaternary geology. Of course this will give us an indication of the climatic conditions of early Herefordshire and an idea of what it was like for any humans here at the time. Pity I missed the meeting there as it would have been great to have shown the solid geology as well, with the faulting and displacement of the hard sandstones and mudstones, which will in the course of time become vegetated and invisible.

  8. An e-petition has been set up on the Number 10 Downing Street website (open to UK citizens)…

    Save the Rotherwas Ribbon

    A recently discovered 4000 year old monument in rural Herefordshire is soon to be covered by a new road development. Archaeologists believe this major find on the outskirts of Hereford is unique in the world, as important as Stonehenge.

    Development of the Rotherwas Access Road must stop immediately. A full public inquiry should be held to decide the future of the Rotherwas Ribbon.

    The Rotherwas Ribbon is a snake-like monument built in three dimensions out of blocks of stone. The stones were heated by fire and plunged into water to crack them into blocks, which have been sculpted to undulate along the 60 metre length of the monument.

    Plans have been drawn up by Herefordshire Council and road developers to encase the find beneath the new road, which will run at right angles to the monument.

    Sign this petition to send a message to Herefordshire Council and the Government that the Rotherwas Ribbon must be saved for the nation.

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/rotherwas/

  9. Rob – thanks for the petition link, which I would encourage as many people to sign up to as possible – I think English Heritage were due to visit and assess the site on Monday 9th, as soon as more news is available, I’ll post it – thanks also to everyone else for their comments, and hopefully enough awareness will give this Rotherwas Ribbon the recognition and protection it surely warrants. Tim

  10. Margaret, sorry I couldn’t access your comment to reply directly, as I only see the most recent on the front page – anyway, hopefully you and your husband, as well as many more of us, will be glad that English Heritage appear to be onboard, regarding the preservation of the Ribbon.

  11. “English Heritage appear to be onboard”

    Really? Impression I got from the early reports was they had been complicit in trying to quickly cover it with the road.

    Beware the council and the local MP, they have been after the road for many years and I doubt some unique archeology will stop their efforts.

    EH will probably wait to see which way the wind blows from above before making their politically safe decision.

  12. The whole area from the hill fort on Dinedor hill and the trackways and hedges and right down to the bottom should be scheduled preserving the whole landscape. This is a very special site, unique in Europe We need you to help to ensure this does happen.

  13. Thanks James, I’ll look round and see what gives regarding the rest of the local landscape you mention.

  14. doubtingthomas – thanks for your comment – I’m not sure for how long EH have been involved in this – the impression I got was that they only became aware of Dinedor Serpent once construction had started – I know EH have come in for past criticism at other sites, but I’d be very surprised if they didn’t get the site designated as an ancient monument – and from what James Hamer says, maybe there’s a need to look at the wider context of the site as well.

  15. As a historian and archaeologist specialized in ancient serpent cult, I am amazed and very excited by this discovery, whgich obviously is extremely significant

    I t´s possible for foreing peopple sign this petition to send a message to Herefordshire Council and the Government that the Rotherwas Ribbon must be saved for the nation?.

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/rotherwas/

    Dr.Ana Mª Vazquez Hoys
    UNED,Spain

  16. Ana – thanks for your comment – as far as I know, anyone can sign this petition, from anywhere in the world, so go ahead, the more the merrier.

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