© Herefordshire County Council
English Heritage is to advise Herefordshire Council on the preservation of the Rotherwas Ribbon in the face of mounting local concern over the future of the recently uncovered archaeological site.
English Heritage inspectors made a visit to the 4,000-year-old archaeological feature in Herefordshire on July 9 to advise the council on further archaeological investigations, preservation measures and to see if it should be preserved as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The 197ft (60m) long curved ribbon of stones, dubbed the Rotherwas Ribbon, is a surface of cracked stones discovered as a result of the archaeological investigations carried out prior to the construction of the Rotherwas access road, located just south of Hereford city.
Its discovery has sent ripples of excitement through the archaeological community and beyond and now a groundswell of opinion is building that opposes the original council plan of preserving the site in a protective casing and allowing the road to be built over the top of it.
English Heritage, who have been advising the council on the preservation of the site since it was first discovered, issued a statement on July 10, which read: “In the long term, English Heritage considers that this is a significant find worthy of being fully recorded for future research and protected in-situ.”
“Each part of the find is very fragile and by keeping the remains in their context they can help us understand how people used to live in this landscape setting. English Heritage will make sure the local authority has access to its expertise in this process.”
Archaeologists at work on the Rotherwas Ribbon. © Herefordshire County Council
The fragile ribbon is made up of a series of deliberately fire-cracked stones, laid in a planned mosaic running north to south at a right angle across the planned route for the new road.
Although the precise ritual use of the site is still unknown, experts say the only parallel is to be found at the 2,000-year-old Serpent Mound in the Ohio River valley in the US, which is a 1,330ft (405m) long effigy of a serpent.
“English Heritage specialists concur with us that the find is extremely fragile and should not be moved,” said County Archaeologist Dr Keith Ray.
It is however now up to English Heritage to advise the council on the precise preservation measures and to make the decision whether or not to schedule the remarkable find as an Ancient Scheduled Monument. The latter option would bring an end to the road building and give the council the problem of what to do with an archaeological site that many are already dubbing Herefordshire’s Stonehenge.
“English Heritage have been involved right from the word go, and they have supported our approach to date,” Herefordshire Council’s Senior Press Officer John Burnett told the 24 Hour Museum. “The only way to really preserve it is to encase it in a protective covering, already with the recent rain it has deteriorated – so we can’t leave it open to the elements or it will deteriorate further.”
However, a flurry of comments has been posted on the local BBC Herefordshire website overwhelmingly opposing the option of encasing the find underneath the road.
Dr Keith Ray, Herefordshire County Archaeologist at the dig site. © Herefordshire County Council
To respond in part to the local interest, the council has unveiled details of arrangements to allow more people to view the recently unearthed feature. Escorted visits have now been arranged to run between 1pm and 4.30pm from Monday to Saturday next week, July 16 to July 21.
English Heritage added that while it agrees with Herefordshire Council that controlled public access should be afforded, they will “ensure the local authority covers the remains to protect them from bad weather.”
English Heritage say a decision on scheduling will be taken in due course and will be informed by further analysis and interpretation of the site. For more information about the scheduling process see the English Heritage website
Anyone wanting to book a place to visit the Rotherwas Ribbon should contact Herefordshire Council's switchboard on 01432 260000 between 11am and 5pm. Only those who have booked will be allowed to visit the site, up to a maximum of 25 per half-hour visit.