Museum of London Archaeology has revealed a stone sculpture from Roman times described by one expert as “the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London and amongst the very best statues surviving from Roman Britain”. The well-preserved stone eagle stands 65cm tall, and is thought to be up to 1,900 years old.
The sculpture was discovered on the last day of the archaeological dig in the City of London, on a construction site for a 16-storey hotel (presumably this one, on Minories close to the Roman walls). It is thought to be a funerary monument that would have decorated a mausoleum, remains of which were also found at the site.
The bird carries a snake in its beak, symbolising the triumph of good over evil — a common Roman motif. The oolitic limestone from which it is hewn comes from the Cotswalds, an important centre of Romano-British sculpture. It would have originally been painted.
The Museum of London’s Caroline MacDonald, said of the discovery:
“Here is a city of around 30,000 people where the mechanics of life are intertwined with the mythical. One Roman Londoner climbs the social ladder and leaves a family rich enough to mark their passing with an extraordinary piece of art.”
The ancient bird will be on show at the Museum of London from 30 October for six months. The Guardian goes into more detail about the find.