A ROMAN sarcophagus that was being used as a trough in a Dorset garden has sold at auction for £100,000.

Auctioneer Guy Schwinge of Duke’s in Dorchester found the sarcophagus, believed to date from the second century, while on a routine valuation in south Dorset.

He said: “When I pulled up at the property, I spotted what looked like a large garden trough peeping out from under some bushes.

“I thought it looked interesting, and when I commented, the owner invited me to take a closer look.

“As I drew closer, I realised I was looking at a Roman sarcophagus of exceptional quality.”

The rectangular sarcophagus is made of white marble, with carved laurel leaves and ribbons. Archaeologist and art expert Laurence Keen described the find as a ‘very important item’.

He said: “It is, to my mind, late second or early third century, with carving of the highest quality.

“The undecorated back suggests that it came from a private mausoleum of a high status individual where the tomb was placed against a wall.”

Further investigations revealed the owners, who did not want to be named, acquired the sarcophagus in 1913, when Duke’s sold the collection of 19th century art expert Sir John Charles Robinson.

Mr Schwinge added: “The fact that this sarcophagus belonged to one of the great connoisseurs of the late 19th century is significant, and it would be the icing on the cake if we were able to identify where and when he acquired it.”

Experts believe Robinson may have purchased it whilst travelling in Italy.

A spokesperson for Duke’s said the Dorset family was ‘utterly delighted’ with the result of the sale.