Archaeologists surveying a construction site for a 16-storey hotel in London have discovered an “exceptional” Roman sculpture of an eagle holding a writhing snake in its beak.
The exquisitely chiseled statue has been hailed by experts as “the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London.”
“Its condition is extraordinary, as crisp as on the day it was carved,” Martin Henig, an expert on Roman art and a professor at the Institute of Archaeology at Oxford, told reporters.
Details such as the snake’s forked tongue and the eagle’s individual feathers are still clearly discernible.
The two-foot-tall sculpture is made of Cotswold limestone and dates from the late 1st or 2nd century A.D. Most likely, it adorned an imposing mausoleum, the foundations of which were also uncovered during excavation.
“The lack of weathering on the statue corroborates this theory, as does the absence of detail on the back of the sculpture; suggesting it once sat it an alcove,” the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), which worked on the dig, said in a statement.
Depictions of eagles are found across the Roman empire as symbols of strength and authority, but were also common in funerary settings.
“The symbolism is understood as the struggle of good, the eagle, against evil, the snake,” the MOLA said.
The sculpture was likely discarded in the ditch when the tomb of the wealthy and powerful Roman was smashed up nearly 2,000 years ago.
Out of luck, the limestone eagle was encased in mud and was preserved in startling condition.
Indeed, archaeologists at first thought they had unearthed a Victorian garden ornament.
The sculpture is on display at the Museum of London for the next six months.
Image: The eagle clasping a serpent in its beak. Credit: MOLA