The Story of a Comb

Combs are objects with a certain universality to them. Even though this particular one is more than a thousand years old, we can still recognize its shape and use. Then what is it, that makes this one special? I invite you to join me in the discovery of the story of this comb.

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This broken comb dates back to the Viking era (c. 700-900 AD), and is one of several similar ones recovered on the island of Walcheren. This particular example was found during excavations at Middelburg’s abbey. Much like the modern use, it was used for grooming and as a treatment for head lice. It is made out of deer antler, which was often a leftover product from other crafts and practices at the time. The choice of material shaped both the making process and the form of the final product: it consists of several rectangular plates held together by two larger billets, decorated with engravings in the shape of geometric patterns. The teeth were cut from the plates after assembly. This comb, along with similar examples, serves as evidence of interactions between Zeeland and Viking communities. Based on known trade routes, the combs found here most likely originate from present-day Denmark.

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Kam gevonden bij opgravingen onder het prinsenlogement in de Abdij van Middelburg

Table of contents

The story of multiple combs...

Unfortunately, the comb I started my research with had to remain on exhibit in the Zeeuwse Museum, but the journey does not simply end there. Thanks to curator Aagje Feldbrugge, I was allowed to have a look at two different examples from the collection of the Royal Scientific Society of Zeeland.

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Two more Viking Era combs from the collection of the Royal Scientific Society of Zeeland. These were found on the beaches of Walcheren.

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A number of viking era combs that have been found on Walcheren have found a place in the collection of the Royal Scientific Society of Zeeland. Each one has their own story, but they also contribute to a larger narrative: collectively, they are evidence of interaction and trade with the Vikings during medieval times.

The fact that there are apparently quite a number of such combs also draws attention to their functional value. Did everyone during this time have their own comb, or was it a luxury item? Are the ones we find now typical examples, or are they special in some form?

Context

As you may have gathered from the introduction, there are many questions to be asked about this viking era comb. Perhaps not all of those questions can be answered, but I have come across many answers (and new questions) in my research. The ground plan below summarizes most of this research: from trade routes, to finding place, to maker and user.