Roman eagle found under London street
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London - Hidden since the Romans ruled Britain, this extraordinary sculpture was perfectly preserved for 1 900 years beneath a busy street.
The carvings on the 26in high eagle are so crisp that when archaeologists unearthed it last month they feared it was a much later copy rather than an original Roman relic.
But experts at the Museum of London Archaeology confirmed that the sculpture from a high-ranking official’s tomb dates from the 1st or 2nd century AD, and is one of only two statues of its type in the world. The other was found in Jordan in 1937.
The eagle – which goes on display this week at the museum – was found 12ft down in a drainage ditch at the Minories, an area of the City of London next to the Tower of London.
The sculpture was found on the last day of an eight-month dig before the construction of a 16-storey hotel for German chain Motel One. “It came out of the ground covered in soil and unrecognisable,” said Antonietta Lerz, one of the two archaeologists who found it.
“As it was cleaned up, first a wing and then a claw became apparent. As the eagle became clear, I was excited and somewhat astounded at its wonderful condition.”
The site is near a Roman cemetery and experts said the statue is made of limestone from the Cotswolds, where a celebrated school of Romano-British sculptors worked. That it was brought from there to London shows it was made for someone important, such as an administrator or an army officer.
Michael Marshall, the museum’s finds specialist, said the uncarved back indicates it sat in an alcove. “The eagle is a symbol of Jupiter, king of the Roman gods, and the snake a symbol of evil,” he said. “The idea is of the triumph of good over evil and the journey to immortality.”
Scattered animal bones and pottery suggest that relatives visited the tomb to dine with the spirits of the dead.
The pottery suggests the eagle could date from 120AD-160AD, during Hadrian’s reign, a century after the invasion of Britain in 43AD.
“The tomb may have been taken over or demolished,’ said Mr Marshall. ‘But the Romans were highly superstitious and wanted to keep the gods on their side, so one theory is that it was taken out and carefully buried rather than thrown in as landfill.”
Roman art expert Reverend Professor Martin Henig, of Oxford University, said: “The sculpture is of exceptional quality, the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London.” - Daily Mail