CAMPAIGNERS who fought against plans to extract gravel from land around Dorchester are delighted that their claims to the area's archaeological importance have been vindicated.

They have welcomed news that a team from Oxford University is planning major digs around the village during the next few years because the site is so important.

Chris Gosden, Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University, said the area had a massive concentration of important archaeology, from pre-history to the present.

Dr John Howell, who formed and led the pressure group Page (Parishes Against Gravel Extraction), said he was delighted at the news.

He said: "In our campaign we very forcefully made the point that this was a unique archaeological area.

"Very many distinguished experts backed us and so did our own fieldwork.

"One archaeologist even said this was one of the richest concentrations of archaeology outside Salisbury Plain.

"Now the university recognises this and is seeking to put together a major, nationally-funded research project which will demonstrate just how important the area is.

"This is good news in itself and reinforces the points we have always made, that the importance of the archaeology here should rule this area out for any future minerals extraction."

Dr Howell, who is an archaeologist by training, successfully fought an election to become the area's member on Oxfordshire County Council on the back of the anti-gravel campaign.

The university explorations will look at Stone Age Dorchester and its relationship with local hillforts.

It will also study the Saxon settlement, the importance of the abbey and how it related to the village, and will look closely at medieval Dorchester.