LONDON — Archeologists digging around the site of a future hotel complex in the City of London have made a rare discovery: a Roman statue of an eagle swallowing a snake.
In perfect condition, the bust-sized funerary sculpture was found last month by Museum of London archeologists on the final day of excavations before the site could be built on. The limestone eagle is believed to have been made in the Cotswolds, England, in the late 1st or early 2nd century A.D.
"This really sits among the finest pieces of Romano-British sculpture," said Michael Marshall, finds specialist at the Museum of London Archeology, as he presented the 1,900-year-old bird to reporters inside a cavernous storeroom.
"There are other pieces of comparable quality, but nothing really above it that was made in this country," he said.
MOLA Project Officer Simon Davis, who oversaw the dig, said the eagle was discovered 3 meters (9.8 feet) below ground level in Aldgate, on the edges of a Roman cemetery, by two archeologists who were excavating the site of a known ditch.
"It was a Friday afternoon, when we were just finishing up," said Davis. "We do commonly find pieces of stone in the ground — archeological masonry and different pieces of stonework — which we always check to see if we need to record, keep or discard them.
"When this piece of stone was found originally, the guys set about cleaning it to assess its importance," he said. "When they started to uncover the feathers and the shoulders of the animal itself, they thought at the time: maybe it's an angel, maybe it's a cherub.
"As they cleaned further and further, they found the neck, the feathers and the beak," said Davis. "They realized that it was an eagle."