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