A 1,600-YEAR-OLD Roman sarcophagus has been vandalised in Dorchester.

Police are appealing for information after the ancient artefact was damaged beyond repair in Poundbury sometime between 11pm on Saturday, April 15 and 6am on Easter Sunday, April 16.

The empty sarcophagus was being kept outside within Brownsword Hall in Pummery Square, but was due to be moved to the new Damers School site.

The stone coffin was discovered with the lid removed and broken into pieces.

The sarcophagus was given to The Duchy of Cornwall by the SSE (electricity board) after it was discovered on SSE land at Grove Trading Estate in Dorchester in 1969.

The Duchy said the Dorset County archaeologist was keen for it to be displayed in an undercover space in the Dorchester area and the Duchy of Cornwall assisted in finding a suitable location.

The Brownsword Hall charity agreed to display it temporarily on its land before its move to a permanent site at Damers.

A Duchy of Cornwall spokesman said: "It's sad that mindless vandals or hapless thieves have done such a thing."

PCSO Matt Barton, of Dorchester Police, said: “Because of the age of the item, it was considered priceless and irreplaceable.

“Due to the weight of the lid, it is likely to have taken several people to remove it and I am appealing for anyone who has seen anything suspicious in the area on the night in question or who has any information to contact me.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Dorset Police at www.dorset.police.uk, via email 101@dorset.pnn.police.uk or by calling 101, quoting occurrence number 55170057253. Alternatively contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or via www.crimestoppers-uk.org.