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'Frisian' combs

Notwithstanding the paucity of evidence for manufacture, Frisian craftspeople and merchants are often thought to have played an important role in production and distribution of combs in early medieval northern Europe. Contrary to the orthodoxy established by Kristina Ambrosiani, which saw Type 5 combs as distinctively Scandinavian in character and origin, Callmer (1998, 474) argues for a Frisian influence on such combs. Another form of possible Frisian origin is Type 2c, which is a consistent presence (though in low quantities) at sites in England, but which is more common in the Netherlands (e.g. see Rijksmuseum van Oudheden n.d.; Tempel 1979), while the handled Type 3 comb, which begins to make its presence felt from the 8th century, may also have its origins in the Frisian area (MacGregor 1985, 91-2; c.f. Riddler 1990a).

Finally, one facet of the Frisian corpus that does seem distinctive is the use of a 'display face convention', whereby only one side of a comb (one of two connecting plates, for instance) features incised ornament. This asymmetric arrangement occurs so consistently in the Frisian area that it is widely believed (see MacGregor 1985, 92) to be indicative of a culturally distinctive mode of display (presumably as part of dress) in which only one face of the comb is intended to be visible. The use of this convention is evident on a large number of combs found between Dorestad and the north of Frisia (Callmer 1998, 478), and stands in marked contrast to overall patterning seen in Scandinavia and England. It might therefore present a useful trait for tracking Frisian artisans or their products across Europe.

 

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