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Pre-Viking and early Viking-Age sites in Russia

The combs from Staraja Ladoga - which was occupied between the mid-8th and mid-10th centuries - have been well studied (see Davidan 1962; 1977; Hilczerowna 1966; Smirnova 2005), and considerable numbers of Types 5 and 6 are known, together with Type 14a. Also of note are one-piece copies of Type 6 combs, carved in elk antler, similar to examples known from Birka. Interestingly, at Staraja Ladoga, the 'Scandinavian' appearance of the combs has been commented upon (Pushkina 2004, 45; see also Davidan 1962), and, together with evidence from metalworking at sites such as Gnezdovo (Pushkina 2004, 49-50), has been taken as an indication that artisans of Scandinavian descent were working in the region.

Excavations have also been undertaken at a number of sites along the major communication routes formed by the Rivers Volga and Dnieper. The 9th- to 11th-century phases at these towns consistently produce Type 5 combs (in the earliest levels), and Type 6 (in larger numbers, and generally later in the sequence; see Smirnova 2005, 87). Smirnova reports that Type 5 combs are also known from 8th/9th-century deposits at sites further into the Volga region, including Sarskii Fort (Lake Nero), Kamno (Pskov), and Krom (Pskov) (Smirnova 2005, 87).

Of all the sites in 'Scandinavian' Russia, a few are very well known, and of key importance: in particular we may note Ryric Gorodishche in the north, and Gnezdovo in Smolensk Oblast (Kiev, Ukraine, is also of interest, but beyond the scope of this atlas). Ryric Gorodische was founded in or before the 9th century, and here combs include Types 5 and 6, and variants of Types 13 and 14a (Smirnova 2005, 87, 178, 296), while at Gnezdovo, the key late 9th/10th-century town at the confluence of the Rivers Dnieper and Svinets, a large number of the combs are of Type 5 and, particularly, Type 6. These combs are frequently interpreted as representative of some form of 'Scandinavian' presence, and it is notable that their occurrence does seem to be restricted to large settlements; their penetration into the hinterlands of settlements such as Gnezdovo seems to have been minimal (see Pushkina 2004, 51-2).

 

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