ARCHAEOLOGISTS have this week unearthed one of the most significant finds ever made in the county – and maybe the country – but no-one knows what it is. Experts agree that the discovery at The Prospect, Ross-on-Wye, is Roman – and there the certainties stop.

Some say the site was once a “substantial” shrine hosting cult rituals and even animal sacrifice. Others see a commanding view of the Wye built for business or pleasure as part of a much bigger building yet to be found.

Already the find is hailed as having few parallels in the UK, if one theory about its origins proves correct.

County archaeologist Dr Keith Ray said the site discovery came as a complete surprise and represents a re-assessment of Herefordshire’s early history. It also reinforces a long-held belief in archaeological circles that significant Roman remains lay somewhere under the centre of Ross, even though none had ever been uncovered until now.

A ground radar sweep of the site’s surrounds is planned to assess what else is there. Out in the open now are the foundations of a large, stone built structure, square shaped with a circular inner chamber. This structure is cut into a soil that varies in thickness across the site, suggesting some degree of landscaping. The soil contained Roman pottery and a coin minted in London sometime between 286-290 AD.

More Roman pottery has been found in a series of ditches and gullies nearby, some of these can be dated to the structure, others are clearly earlier.

A team from Leominster-based Border Archaeology spotted the potential of The Prospect while watching over council contractors re-building a wall this week.

George Children, general manager of Border Archeology, said that the unusual plan of the building and its prominent location may well make it a temple, possibly the site of an Iron Age shrine that the Romans rebuilt in stone.

With such a panoramic view of the Wye, there is a suggested link to the worship of water gods. But horse skulls and teeth uncovered in pits nearby hint at rituals related to the horse-goddess Epona, whose cult was well established in Iron Age Britain and flourished throughout the Roman period.

“If the site is a temple, then its plan is very unusual and has very few close parallels with other Roman religious sites excavated in Britain,” said Mr Children.

The idea of a big family mausoleum has been suggested, but no evidence of burials has been found.

Herefordshire Council is already planning open days and viewing platforms at the site, but the priority is protection.

The Prospect find joins the Rotherwas Ribbon and the Roman cemetery recently revealed at Stretton Grandison to complete a hat-trick of major archeological discoveries in the county so far this year.

In the Ross area, Romans are known to have had a presence at Weston-under-Penyard (Ariconium) and Coughton. Herefordshire already has a Roman temple that was excavated at New Weir, Kenchester. A number of Roman temple sites recorded in Wales and The Marches are located on viewpoints overlooking water.