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Extremely rare Roman coin found during A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon upgrade work

Only the second coin of Emperor Laelianus to be discovered in England
Only the second coin of Emperor Laelianus to be discovered in England

An incredibly rare coin featuring a Roman emperor who reigned for only two months is the latest remarkable discovery to be made on Highways England’s £1.5billion upgrade of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

The ‘radiate’ coin, which depicts the Roman emperor Ulpius Cornelius Laelianus wearing a radiate crown, is only the second of its kind to be discovered on an archaeological dig in England.

The find is significant because the usurper Laelianus ruled a breakaway empire from Rome for a short spell in the third century, with evidence of his reign very rare.

This coin did likely not arrive in Britain from the continent until after the ill-fated emperor’s demise.

Dr Steve Sherlock, archaeology lead for the A14 on behalf of Highways England, said: “Discoveries of this kind are incredibly rare.

"This is one of many coins that we’ve found on this exciting project, but to find one where there are only two known from excavations in this country that portray this particular emperor, really is quite significant.

"I look forward to seeing how the analysis of this find, along with numerous other Roman remains that we have found on this project, helps us better understand our past.”

Dr Julian Bowsher examines the rare coin
Dr Julian Bowsher examines the rare coin

The coin was discovered in the ditch of a small Roman farmstead unearthed on the project and the head on it has been identified by a leading coin expert as the ill-fated Emperor Laelianus who usurped the Gallic Empire in 269AD.

Highways England is working with experts from MOLA Headland Infrastructure on the A14.

Julian Bowsher, numismatist at MOLA Headland Infrastructure, said: “Roman emperors were very keen to mint coins.

"Laelianus reigned for just two months which is barely enough time to do so. However, coins were struck in Mainz, Germania.

"The fact that one of these coins ever reached the shores of Britain demonstrates remarkable efficiency, and there’s every chance that Laelianus had been killed by the time this coin arrived in Cambridgeshire.”

An even older coin was also found on the project, dating back to 57 BC, meaning it was likely minted to help fund the resistance to Julius Caesar.

This Celtic coin dates back to around 57 BC, and would have likely helped fund the resistance to Caesar’s legions
This Celtic coin dates back to around 57 BC, and would have likely helped fund the resistance to Caesar’s legions

The Gallic War Uniface coin was minted by the Ambiani tribe, who lived around what is now Amiens in the Somme area of modern-day France and exported their currency across the Channel to their Celtic cousins to help resist the Romans.

Elsewhere on the A1, work on another road upgrade recently uncovered new evidence pointing to Roman occupation in northern England earlier than previously thought.

And as part of archaeological survey work for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, extensive trial trenching and test pitting has revealed a number of interesting but non-remarkable finds across the World Heritage Site landscape.

Finds within the scheme boundary included worked flint and pieces of pottery dating back as far as 12,000 years, and a vessel containing a cremation burial from the Beaker Period approximately 4,500 years ago - while outside the boundary of the scheme a small hengiform monument and bones from a crouched burial were found.

The work, inspected by the independent A303 Heritage Monitoring and Advisory Group, confirms there are no remarkable archaeological finds on the route of the scheme that would be disturbed or damaged by construction, and the findings have been submitted as part of the ongoing DCO Examination planning process.

Highways England is required by law to agree plans for how a scheme will deal with the effects it will have on its immediate environment, including local communities, wildlife and plants, and also any archaeological finds that may be found ahead of starting work on any new road or major upgrade.

The pioneering work of the project has now seen the A14 archaeology win the 'Rescue Project of the Year' accolade at the 2019 Current Archaeology Awards.

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