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Later Viking-Age and medieval sites in Russia

Close to Ryric Gorodische, important excavations have been undertaken at the well-known medieval town of Novgorod (founded in the late 9th century, and occupied throughout the Middle Ages). Here, thanks to the work of Smirnova (2005, 86-92), a variety of comb types are identifiable. The most common forms are 5, 6, 9, 13 and 14a, though there are rare examples of Types 7 (only eight examples from a total of 371 combs) and 8b (1/371). The 10th-century date for Novgorod's foundation is reflected in the coincidence of Types 5 and 6 in its earliest phases. Following a short period (10th to 11th centuries) in which Type 6 and Type 9 combs are popular, single-sided combs dwindle in numbers, to be replaced by Type 14a, and then Type 13, double-sided varieties. Type 13 combs first appear in the 12th century as a minor component of the corpus, and only exceed Type 14a in the mid-13th century. A variety of forms are discernible, with all of the standard endplate forms present.

Smirnova interprets this patterning as follows. She sees an early phase (c. AD 950-1000) in which Novgorod's combs show the greatest degree of similarity with the corpora of the Eastern Baltic (including Gotland and Birka), and suggests that this relates to the town's documented Scandinavian presence (notwithstanding any claims for a strong Frisian presence at Birka). In contrast, the combs of Smirnova's second phase (c. AD 1000-1050) bear closer resemblance to those of the southern Baltic (including Haithabu). This may suggest a rearticulation of trade, contact, or politics, and the trend persists into the 12th and 13th centuries, as combs of Type 14a continue to show closest similarities with examples from the southern and western Baltic area (Smirnova 2005, 296). By the 13th and 14th centuries, another shift is perceptible, as Type 13 combs seem to represent part of a tradition that covers the Eastern Baltic area between north-western Russia and central Sweden (Smirnova 2005, 296).

The inferred connection between the presence of traditional 'Viking' combs and that of a Scandinavian presence is echoed in the study of archaeological sites elsewhere in north-western Russia. For instance, one might note the case of the Khazar fortified site of Sarkel, on the Lower Don, which was taken by the Rus in the third quarter of the 10th century. Excavations at Sarkel have recovered combs of Type 6 in late 10th- and 11th-century strata (Flërova 2001, 38-41, fig. 2:1-12), and Smirnova (2005, 92) suggests that these combs were therefore being used by members of the fort's new Scandinavian military presence. This may well be the case, but more generally these studies serve to demonstrate the potential of such combs in the tracing of networks of contact and trade in early medieval north-eastern Europe and north-western Russia.

 

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