A couple of weeks ago I went to visit Rotherwas to see the new discovery there. The photo above is of what is called either the Rotherwas Ribbon or the Dinedor Serpent. It’s been found during excavations to build a new road and it’s all a bit of a mystery.
What you can see is a ditch with a mass of fire-cracked rocks laid over the top of it. It must be at least 2,000 years old because a there’s a Roman ditch cut through it. The best estimate at the moment is that it’s Early Bronze Age, around 2000 BC, as this would match the age of the flints and pottery found in the ditch. Another clue is the presence of an Early Bronze Age settlement a few metres away, the oldest settlement known in Herefordshire at the moment. Dating the site to the Early Bronze Age creates further puzzles though because of the use of fire-cracked rock.
Usually if you show archaeologists fire-cracked rock they’ll assume you have a evidence of cooking. The pottery of the time wasn’t really very suitable for sitting over a fire, so instead people would heat rocks and drop them into a pot to boil water. This kind of technology was thought to date from around five hundred years later the date of this settlment. Using the rocks to line a ditch adds to the puzzle as it’s a very different use. Hereford’s county archaeology Keith Ray has described it as: “…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.”
Dr Ray and others ar e making some comparisons to the Ohio Serpent Mound but I’m not sure how helpful that it. The Rotherwas site is a cut into the landscape rather than a mound, and it’s a long way from the Ohio Serpent in both time and space. Additionally there’s not really much information about the length or route of the Ribbon. Personally I’d be looking more closely at the avenues found associated with stone circles of the time in the British Isles.
However if you look closely at the Ribbon there are good reasons to be sceptical of it being a trackway. The stones are laid into sandy soil. This simply wouldn’t take regular use as a trackway. Nor would you want to build a track into the ground. The Roman Ditch cut through the Ribbon seems to follow it to the river. The reason probably isn’t that the Romans saw it and decided to hack it open. Rather the filled in cut would have been boggier that the surrounding area, making it an obvious choice for a ditch.
The state of the Ribbon and associated evidence of burning at the site suggests that it was only briefly open to the world before being covered over. The re-exposure four thousand years later is now a big problem.
There are members of the public who’d like the whole site opened so that everyone can access it. The photos I’ve taken are after rain the previous weekend. They were however taken before the seriously heavy rains which made the international news fell. The site looks to be extremely fragile and exposure to the elements would seem to be a good way to destroy it, so some sort of cover would seem to be in order. This is the plan favoured by the local council. Unfortunately the council’s plan also includes building a major road over the site, which raises its own questions about the effects of shockwaves caused by Heavy Goods Vehicles running over the site. Arguably if built correctly this may preserve the remains, but would slice across the Ribbon.
It’s this road which is the most pressing question over the Ribbon at the moment. There is an extremely fractious debate in Hereford at the moment over the value of the road. Additionally there are allegations that the site was discovered shortly before local elections and its announcement supressed to avoid embarrassment for the ruling party. The Ribbon therefore seems to be caught in a clash between those a long-term view and those whose positions require delivery of short-term success.
The question is whether or not work can be delayed so that the decision is made with more facts about the site, or if the economy of Herefordshire is in such a bad way that the road must be built as soon as possible — regardless of what the Ribbon is.
Links to other pages.
Herefordshire County Council have a page with news updates.
If you’re interested in the news of development of the site you’ll find more information at Save the Dinedor Serpent.
The Megalithic Portal has discussion on the state of the serpent and its implications.
There’s also discussion at The Modern Antiquarian.
Anthropology.net reported on this at the start of the month.