A Roman eagle in near pristine condition, clutching a snake in its beak, was found by archaeologists in London's financial district, The Guardian reported Tuesday.
Discovered during excavation for a new development, its condition was so pristine researchers worried they might have unearthed nothing more than a Victorian-era garden ornament.
But experts confirmed it was Roman, although carved in Britain from native limestone.
"The sculpture is of exceptional quality, the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London, and amongst the very best statues surviving from Roman Britain," Martin Henig, an expert on Roman art, said.
"Its condition is extraordinary, as crisp as on the day it was carved. All it has lost is the surface paint, probably washed away when it was deposited in a ditch."
Archaeologists said they believed the sculpture was discarded in the ditch when the aristocratic tomb it decorated was smashed up more than 1,800 years ago.
Michael Marshall of the Museum of London said he believed superstitious awe probably protected such a powerful religious symbol even when the tomb of its original owner was demolished.