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Gotland

The Baltic island of Gotland is particularly worthy of mention, given the economic importance of Visby and the Viking-Age harbours of Paviken and Fröjel, as well as the island's richly furnished graves. A large number of combs are known from the island (Lundström 1974; Carlsson 2002b). Types identifiable include 5, 6, 9, 13 and 14a, while two one-piece combs made entirely of bronze are also of note. Callmer (1998, 477) has pointed out some particularities of the development of comb use in Gotland. He suggests that the comb types recovered from contexts dating to the 6th and 7th centuries are largely indistinguishable from those in contemporaneous use in mainland Scandinavia. In the 8th century, however, 'western imports' (or imitations thereof) start to appear, as well as combs with their closest parallels in Frisia. This, together with the occurrence of other artefacts of putative Frisian origin, leads Callmer to suggest that Gotland was a centre of Frisian merchants and craftworkers, perhaps even slaves of Gotlandic magnates.

Irrespective of whether one chooses to follow this interpretation, there is no doubt that the combs from Gotland represent a phenomenon distinct in many ways from that seen in neighbouring Sweden and Finland, and Scandinavia more generally. Nonetheless, some types are familiar; there are good examples of Type 5 both at the harbour of Fröjel (where activity is recorded between the late 6th and late 12th centuries) and in inhumation graves, while examples of Type 6, 9, and 13 are well known from later contexts. However, such examples often differ in the detail of form and ornament from their counterparts elsewhere in Scandinavia and beyond, and a thorough synthesis of existing and recently excavated material would be instructive.

 

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