Incredibly-preserved Roman eagle statue found on building site in Aldgate

Eagle has landed... Roman sculpture unearthed at Aldgate

Eagle has landed... Roman sculpture unearthed at Aldgate - Credit: Museum of London

Archaeologists have uncovered an incredibly-preserved Roman eagle sculpture rasping a writhing serpent in its beak.

The find was made on a building site at Aldgate where a 16-storey hotel is being built.

Now the “extraordinary carving” is going on public display today for six months.

A team from the Museum of London was reluctant at first to announce the discovery and proclaim its Roman origins, owing to its “unbelievably good condition”.

But specialists have now confirmed that the sculpture is nearly 2,000 years old, dating back to Roman London in the first or second century AD.

“Its condition is extraordinary,” the museum’s Prof Martin Henig said. “The carving is as crisp as the day it was made. All it has lost is the surface paint, probably washed away when it was deposited in a ditch.

“It’s the finest example of a Romano-British artist ever found in London and among the best statues surviving from Roman Britain.”

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A Roman cemetery is known to have been located between Aldgate and Tower Hill at the spot where the hotel is being built in The Mineries.

The statue is believed to have once adorned a rich cemetery mausoleum, the foundations of which have also been unearthed. The lack of weathering on the statue over the past 19 centuries corroborates this theory.

Museum Finds specialist Michael Marshall said: “This find provides a fascinating insight into the inhabitants of Roman London and shows their familiarity with the icons of the classical world. It helps us understand how Roman cemeteries and tombs that lined the roads out of the City were furnished and to understand the beliefs of those buried there.”

The skill of the craftsman is apparent, with the forked tongue of the snake and the individual feathers of the eagle still in clear detail today.

The sculpture is made from limestone from the Cotswolds. A well-known school of Romano-British sculptors worked in the area.

The archaeologists were given access to the site by Endurance Land who are building the 291-bed hotel for Scottish Widows Investment.

The Roman eagle goes on display for six months at the Museum of London, near St Paul’s, from today.