Archaeologists at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have discovered an extraordinary well-preserved sculpture of an eagle, in what has been described as "amongst the very best statues surviving from Roman Britain."
Archaeologists have confirmed that the sculpture dates to the first or second centuries AD.
The 65cm tall and 55cm wide sculpture of the eagle firmly clasping a writhing serpent in its beak indicates typical Roman symbols.
"The team from MOLA were at first hesitant to announce the discovery and to proclaim its Roman origins, owing to its almost unbelievable preservation. Depictions of eagles and serpents are typically Roman but the closest comparison to this sculpture comes from Jordan. The symbolism is understood as the struggle of good, the eagle, against evil, the snake," the archaeologists said in a statement.
The sculpture was found on the site of a Roman cemetery, what is now today the development site of 24/26 Minories hotel.
"This theme is common in funerary contexts and an important Roman cemetery is known to have been located on the site."
Foundations of a rich mausoleum have also been uncovered at the site and experts believe that the eagle statue adorned the mausoleum.
"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 archaeologists added.
The eagle sculpture is made from Oolitic limestone from the Cotswolds and depicts the fine skills with which the sculptor would have made it. It features forked tongue of the snake and the individual feathers of the eagle are clearly visible even after about 2,000 years.
The intact eagle sculpture is the one of its kind to be discovered from the Roman Britain region, which has uncovered mostly scant and fragmentary works of well-known and celebrated Romano-British sculptors so far.