Antler Comb




Martin Foreman

Rachel Cubitt

This comb was found in the East Riding of Yorkshire in 2009 during excavations undertaken in advance of a new pipeline. Stylistic details and its size and proportions date it to the 6th and 7th centuries, the Middle Saxon Period.


In specialist parlance this is a double-sided composite comb. It has teeth along both sides and is made of multiple pieces, which is a construction technique that allowed for components to be easily replaced if broken.


The components comprise a series of vertical tooth plates held between longitudinal side plates, all riveted together with iron rivets. All the plates are made of red deer antler. The teeth were produced with two distinct levels of fineness, being coarser one side than the other. Cut marks along the edges of the side plates indicate that the teeth were cut after the components were assembled. The cuts might have been considered a decorative element. The paired oblique lines on the side plate may have been added to improve grip rather than being purely decorative. Their faint appearance suggests heavy wear.


The comb was found in this state with most of the teeth broken (29 detached fragments of tooth are not shown in the photograph). However, the fact that the various composite parts survive in assembled form suggests that there was little disturbance of this comb in the ground. A further indication that it had been well used was the irregular length and heavy wear of the broader teeth that do survive. The overall impression is that this comb was once a handsome item that combed a lot of hair before being discarded as a worn-out or unwanted item alongside other domestic rubbish.

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