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London archaeologists find Roman eagle statue

Story highlights

  • Archaeologists says the statue is in an "almost unbelievable" state of preservation
  • The sculpture of an eagle grasping a snake was found in a dig in the City of London
  • The limestone statue may once have graced a mausoleum, archaeologists say
  • It's been dated by experts to the first or second century

A Roman sculpture of an eagle with a writhing serpent firmly gripped in its hooked beak was unveiled Wednesday in London, where archaeologists found it on a site earmarked for a hotel development.

Archaeologists in London say the statue is one of the very best examples surviving from Roman Britain.

"The skill of the craftsman is apparent; with the forked tongue of the snake and the individual feathers of the eagle still clearly discernible," a news release from Museum of London Archaeology said.

The archaeologists were "at first hesitant to announce the discovery and to proclaim its Roman origins, owing to its almost unbelievable preservation," it said.

But the limestone statue, which stands nearly 26 inches tall, has now been dated by experts to the first or second century.

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It was dug up at a site in the City of London, the UK capital's financial center, which is known once to have been home to a Roman cemetery.

    According to the museum, the symbolism of the statue can be understood "as the struggle of good, the eagle, against evil, the snake," a common theme in relation to funeral sites.

    Archaeologists believe the sculpture may once have sat in an alcove on a fancy mausoleum whose foundations were also uncovered in the dig.

    The statue will be on display at the Museum of London for the next six months.

    A number of discoveries highlighting London's Roman past have been made in recent months in connection with major construction projects. They include about 20 Roman-era skulls found beneath London's Liverpool Street station by workers digging a new rail tunnel.

    Read more: London dig turns up slice of Roman life

    Read more: Rail excavation unearths suspected 'plague pit'