A beautifully preserved statue of an eagle eating a snake is turning heads in England, with experts praising the artwork as one of the finest ever found from the Roman Britain era.
The statue, unearthed during exploratory excavation for a planned 16-story hotel in London's Aldgate neighborhood, is believed to have been carved from limestone in the late first or early second century, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. In pristine condition, the bust-sized statue depicts the struggle of good versus evil.
Even for a country that prizes its archaeological finds, the praise being heaped on the statue so far is nothing short of effusive. A statement released by the Museum of London, where the eagle was put on display Wednesday and will remain for another six months, quoted several experts on the significance of the piece.
"The sculpture is of exceptional quality, the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London, and amongst the very best statues surviving from Roman Britain," Martin Henig, an internationally renowned expert on Roman art, said in the statement. "Its condition is extraordinary, as crisp as on the day it was carved. All it has lost is the surface paint, probably washed away when it was deposited in a ditch."
When it was first found, researchers wondered if the intricately carved stone might be a Victorian garden ornament due to its level of preservation, the Guardian reports. However, initial research suggests the eagle was commissioned by a wealthy or politically important individual for a mausoleum. The burial plot's location, by the side of what was once a main road leading out of London, points to the significance of its owner, who may even have been a magistrate or "joint mayor," according to the Independent.
Noting in the statement that "funerary sculpture" is very rare, Marshall added that the eagle may be able to help archaeologists "understand how the cemeteries and tombs that lined the roads out of the city were furnished and the beliefs of those buried there."