A MOSAIC more than 2,000 years old which was unearthed in Dorset has been sold to an overseas buyer for £135,000 – but locals are campaigning to keep the floor fragment from leaving the country.

The fragment, dating back to the 4th Century AD, was discovered in the grounds of a Roman villa in Dewlish in 1974.

It was sold by the owner of Dewlish House at auction in 2018 to Edward Hurst, an antiques dealer, who has been holding the piece in storage.

Mr Hurst has now sold the mosaic to an overseas buyer. He applied for an export licence over a year ago to gain permission to send the piece abroad.

Earlier this month the government imposed a temporary export ban on the mosaic until October 16 2020, with the chance for it to be extended until January 16 2021 if enough of an attempt to fundraise to save it is made.

If that does not happen, the mosaic will be taken out of storage and shipped abroad to its new owner.

A group of campaigners from Dewlish are hoping to stop that from happening by raising £135,000 plus VAT and outbidding the other buyer.

John Seymour, a Dewlish resident, is appalled at the sale of the historic piece.

He said: "Frankly I feel outraged that the mosaic will be dug up. It is cultural vandalism. This should not be on sale to anyone else because this is a community asset for the surrounding area and a national heritage piece.

"These things should not be available to be sold on the open market like an old car. Something this precious should transcend all of that. It has appalled everyone local that it has the prospect of disappearing forever and once gone it will never be seen again."

The campaigners are hoping to raise awareness of the upcoming export of the piece as well as £135,000 plus VAT to stop that from happening.

Mr Seymour said: "We want people to use social media, contact their MPs and generate a tsunami of protest whereby those in power realise what is potentially afoot and act to put a stop on it. Once any nation allows its treasures to disappear at the wave of a dollar bill then it is a slippery slope."

Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage is hoping that the floor fragment will not be sent overseas.

She said: "This mosaic is a piece of history telling us about the lives of our Roman ancestors more than 2,000 years ago. It is an incredibly rare example of the Roman occupation of Britain and I hope that, even in these challenging times, a buyer can be found to keep this important and striking work in the UK."

Current guardian of the mosaic, Edward Hurst, said: "It is terribly frustrating for both me and my buyer that it has taken over a year for this ban to be put in place. In a perfect world I would have loved to have sold it to someone in this country, however there was no interest here when I sold it a year ago. I absolutely adore the piece and I would love to keep it to myself."

Mr Seymour added: "This country is rich in Roman heritage and if this is allowed to go through it may not be the last time. This is not just a case of us protecting artefacts for now. In future generations people will look back and see that we stood up for our country. If we don't then future generations will think we have robbed them of their birth right. We must fight."

Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the mosaic should contact the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) on 0845 300 6200.