Roman marble coffin sells for £96,000

The Roman marble coffin The coffin was discovered during a routine valuation

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A Roman marble coffin which was spotted in the bushes of a garden in Dorset has sold at auction for £96,000.

The 7ft (2.1m) sarcophagus was being used as a trough to stand flowers in, until its significance was recognised by auction valuer Guy Schwinge.

Mr Schwinge described how he saw the coffin "peeping out from under some bushes" during a routine valuation.

"As I drew closer I realised I was looking at a Roman sarcophagus of exceptional quality," he said.

Mr Schwinge, of Duke's in Dorchester, discovered the family had acquired the sarcophagus almost 100 years ago at auction.

'Utterly delighted'

Burying the Roman dead

  • Many of the oldest Roman religious cults were associated with places, natural forces and aspects of everyday life
  • At the core of belief lay the the state religion, which prescribed worship of traditional gods such as Jupiter and Mars
  • Romans had traditionally cremated their dead, but inhumation gradually became more common in the 2nd Century
  • Indeed, although ancient Egyptians popularised the custom of preserving the body, stone coffins - sarcophagi - were used in the early Roman Empire before the arrival of Christianity

Source: BBC History

An auction catalogue from 1913 shows the coffin was imported to Britain by Queen Victoria's surveyor of pictures, Sir John Robinson, who lived at Newton Manor in Swanage, Dorset.

"When I saw the name Duke's on the front (of the catalogue) I couldn't believe it," Mr Schwinge said.

The rectangular sarcophagus is carved from fine quality white marble, said a spokesman for Duke's, who sold the coffin for a second time.

The quality of the carving suggests it was made for a high status individual.

Experts from the British Museum have estimated the sarcophagus dates from the 2nd Century.

The owners were "utterly delighted" with the sale, Duke's said.

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