4. Remarks

Considering the distributions outlined in the Atlas section, a number of patterns are worthy of attention. For instance, one may note the more or less discrete distributions of Types 1c, 11, and 12 in the pre-Viking era, the apparent existence of a north-west/south-east axis separating the areas of circulation of Types 8 and 9 in the 10th and 11th centuries, or the medieval persistence of Types 9 and 13 in the north, as opposed to the south and west of our study region. A more detailed survey would, of course, also identify variation within, as well as between, the modern political entities used as the base units of analysis in this study. The schematic maps are indicators only, designed to provide a convenient point of reference and introduction to the common comb forms in a given region. The mapped units follow modern political boundaries, and within these regions it should not be assumed that distributions are uniform. As a result of taphonomic conditions, for example, the 'Scotland' collection is very much dominated by material from the Northern and Western Isles, and there is considerable disparity in type profile between the former and the latter (see Ashby in press a). Similarly, in the light of recent work by Sindbaek (2008a; 2008b; 2010) on contact and movement in the Baltic, it would be interesting to identify variation within Denmark and Sweden, in order that we might search for synergy between collections from sites in Jutland (such as those from Aarhus), and those in Scania (now southern Sweden). However, this is not the venue for fine-grained analysis.

The study also highlights the limitations of studying material culture on a broad canvas. One might note that there is considerable morphological variation within certain type groups (in Types 5, 9, and 13, for instance). This is of course acknowledged. Similarly, one might argue that within Types 11 and 12, discrete subgroups are identifiable on both geographic and morphological grounds. Indeed, such a suggestion has previously been made (Anne Brundle pers. comm.), but in the interests of consistency the groups are herein retained intact as descriptive categories, until such time as their division may be justified on solid statistical grounds. Further analysis of this comb material, with an eye to the identification of discrete subgroups of temporal or spatial significance, is certainly encouraged.

Furthermore, the aim here has not been to analyse or explain in detail the patterning identified, but rather to characterise it, in order that the material from the British Isles may be put into its broader context, and that some general understanding of the north European corpus might be attained. At the very least, the heterogeneity of the material should be clear, as should its potential for study in formal terms.

More interpretative treatments of subsets of this data are available elsewhere (e.g. Ashby 2009; Ashby in press a; Ashby in press b; see also Bibliography for similar work by other authors), and it is hoped that the present study may stimulate further interest in this area of research. However, in order that a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the material might be reached, it is important that the combs also be considered at a level below that of 'type'. Patterning in discrete traits relating to raw material choice, use of ornament, and techniques of manufacture must also be described and accounted for, and the most fruitful way forward will surely make use of approaches that apply the study of such traits in concert with the more traditional typological treatment outlined herein.


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