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Antler comb with matching case

 

Length: 10.000 cm (comb)
Length: 10.000 cm (comb)

Gift of N.W.J. Westlake

M&ME 1866,5-10,1

Prehistory and Europe

    Antler comb with matching case

    Viking, 9th-10th century AD
    From York, England

    A thousand years old and still got all its teeth

    Combs such as this are commonly found throughout the Viking world. This comb and case are from York, the former Viking capital then called Jorvik. They were found in the nineteenth century.

    Both comb and case are made of several pieces of antler fitted together with iron rivets. Decoration on the comb is the same on both sides. It has very little ornament, other than simple cross-hatching in rectangular areas, which are confined to the ends. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines. Below this is a similar pattern to that on the comb, but with vertical lines instead of cross-hatching. Comb decoration can be more elaborate: some were inlaid with bronze. This suggests that all ranks of society owned and used them. The simple decoration on this comb set implies that it probably belonged to someone of middle rank.

    Both men and women wore their hair long in the Viking period. Combs probably acted as implements for removing lice as much as for making the hair look beautiful.

    Like many smaller combs, this comb and case have holes in them for hanging from a belt or brooch. Comb cases were made to protect the delicate teeth from being accidentally broken. This seems to have worked here as this comb still has all its teeth. This is very rare.

    J. Graham-Campbell, Viking artefacts: a select cat (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)