A Roman sculpture of an eagle grasping a serpent, regarded by a leading expert as “amongst the very best statues surviving from Roman Britain”, has gone on public display for the first time.
The artefact, discovered by a team from the the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) on a hotel building site in the City of London, has been confirmed as dating from the first or second century AD.
The team was initially hesitant to date the artefact, due to its pristine condition. It is thought the sculpture was well preserved due to its position within a mausoleum also unearthed on the site.
Carved from oolitic (sedimentary) limestone from the Cotswolds, the statue is thought to symbolise the struggle between good (the eagle) and evil (the snake), a theme common in Roman funerary customs.
The artefact, on loan to the Museum of London by the hotel’s developers SWIP Property Trust and Endurance Land, will be on display to the public for the next six months.
Michael Marshall, MOLA finds specialist, said: “The eagle is a classically Roman symbol, and this new find provides a fascinating new insight into the inhabitants of Roman London and demonstrates their familiarity with the iconography of the wider classical world.
“Funerary sculpture from the city is very rare and this example, perhaps from inside a mausoleum, is a particularly fine example which will help us to understand how the cemeteries and tombs that lined the roads out of the city were furnished and the beliefs of those buried there.”