Archeologists in London just turned up an 1,800-year old Roman statue of an eagle devouring a serpent. Researchers at the Museum of London call the statue “pristine,” “startling” and “exceptional,” the Guardian reports, and hail the artwork as one of the best preserved examples of Romano-British works ever found.
The sculpture turned up in a tomb excavation site in London, the Guardian says, and when the team first saw it, it was in such great shape that they suspected it was a much more recent Victorian garden decoration that somehow got buried and preserved. Upon careful examination, however, it turned out to be an original Roman relic, carved in Britain out of local limestone in the first century AD.
During Roman times, eagles signified both the empire’s strength and served as a typical funeral decoration, the Guardian says, while the snake, in this case, probably represents evil being triumphed over. This particular statue was installed in an aristocratic tomb during the Romans’ height of power in Britain.
It is believed to have stood on an imposing mausoleum, on the roadside edge of the eastern cemetery just outside the city walls. The road was once lined with the monuments of the wealthiest citizens, like the Via Appia outside Rome.
Scattered animal bones and pottery nearby suggest funeral feasts or that family members revisited the tomb to dine with the spirits of their dead.
Eventually, the original tomb was destroyed, but the eagle statue was set aside in a nearby ditch where, purely out of luck, it was covered by mud and preserved for centuries awaiting discovery. The statue was unearthed just a month ago, but it will be on display at the Museum of London for the next six months.
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