Viking Age Combs

Local Products or Objects of Trade?

  • Sjoerd van Riel


Hair combs of bone and antler were commonly used personal items during the Viking Age (AD 800-1000). However, many specifics regarding their production and distribution are still unclear, and the discussion of local production or itinerancy has not been closed. In this paper, I argue that a combination of raw material analysis and emperical study of decoration can lead to new insights regarding local fashions and regional manufacturing. As a case study, an empirical analysis of comb material from three major Viking Age central places (York, Dorestad and Birka) is presented. The study suggests that although many decoration types occur on combs from all three sites, regional patterns can be distinguished that can be interpreted as indicators for local fashions as well as for itenerant comb makers.