Archaeologists have discovered a Roman sculpture of an eagle holding a snake in its beak during a dig at a London building site.
Experts say the sculpture, which was found in the City of London before the site's redevelopment into a 16-storey hotel, is the "finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London".
The sculpture dates from the first or second century AD and is made from oolitic limestone sourced from the Cotswolds.
Archaeologists also unearthed the foundations of a mausoleum during the dig, and believe the stone eagle once adorned the structure.
The sculpture came out of the ground "covered in soil and unrecognisable" in September in the last few hours of an excavation that lasted several months.
The sculpture is in exceptionally good condition. Details such as the forked tongue of the snake and the individual feathers of the eagle remain.
It is in such good condition that archaeologists could not believe it was 1900 years old, and were initially hesitant to announce the find until it had been seen by several experts.
Images of eagles and serpents are typically Roman and the discovery has helped experts understand what the cemeteries and tombs outside the city walls once looked like.
It was already known that a celebrated school of Romano-British sculptors worked in the Cotswolds, but only a few fragments of their work have been found.
Reverend Professor Martin Henig, a leading expert in the field, said that the object was "the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London and amongst the very best statues surviving from Roman Britain".
Michael Marshall, finds specialist at Museum of London Archaeology (Mola), added: "The eagle is a classically Roman symbol and this new find provides a fascinating new insight into the inhabitants of Roman London and demonstrates their familiarity with the iconography of the wider classical world.
"Funerary sculpture from the city is very rare and this example, perhaps from inside a mausoleum, is a particularly fine example which will help us to understand how the cemeteries and tombs that lined the roads out of the city were furnished and the beliefs of those buried there."
The sculpture will go on display for six months at the Museum of London from Wednesday.