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The Netherlands and Belgium

The corpus from the Netherlands is surprisingly poorly understood, though arguably offers greater potential than the French material. Synthesis has been lacking, though a recent survey of medieval material (Rijkelijkhuizen in press) is welcome. The combs of the early medieval period suffer from a particular lack of clarity, as many Dutch towns were relatively late foundations, while the large corpus of combs from the terpen is largely undated. The worked bone and antler from recent work in Amsterdam is yet to be published, but to the author's knowledge only a single composite comb is known from the city, and this is a rather idiosyncratic, later medieval (14th or 15th century) imitation of Type 13 (Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen pers. comm.). At Zutphen, Gelderland, there is only a small, fragmentary collection, and no composite combs at all were recovered from 's-Hertogenbosch, North Brabant. Publication of a 10th- to 12th-century collection from Deventer, Overijssel, is currently in preparation, and this material includes examples of combs of Types 3, 6, 7, 8a, 8b, and 12, while there is also a comb of Type 2c from Oegstgeest, South Holland (Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen pers. comm.). Fragmentary material from the town of Kerk-Avezaath in Gelderland includes endplates and connecting-plate blanks from single-sided combs, as well as complete examples of Type 14b (Verhagen and Esser 2001).

However, we do have a few larger published collections to work with. Excavations in the harbour at the 7th- to 9th-century site of Dorestad (van Es and Verwers 1980) uncovered little evidence of boneworking, and few combs, but much material has been recovered from the Frisian terpen (Roes 1963). Here, on morphological grounds, most combs appear to date from between the 3rd and 9th centuries, though there are a few examples that have been dated to the 13th and 14th. Early material includes a series of elaborate triangular-backed combs forms (Type 1a), as well as barred zoomorphic (1b), and double-sided (Type 10) combs. These types are accompanied by bowed (Type 2b) forms, and Type 5 combs that are often of very great size, and have much in common with the early material from Birka. Also present are handled and asymmetric combs (Type 3) and elaborate comb cases (probably for use with combs of Type 1a), while later medieval material is represented by just three Type 13 combs. Unfortunately, the material lacks stratigraphy, and Roes (1963) provides little discussion on the subject, so chronology is not accessible. Although, through reference to the Dorestad sequence, Roes (1963, 17-18; see plate XVIII) attributes the Type 5 combs from the Frisian terpen to the Carolingian period, the lack of good stratigraphic or absolute dating for these combs remains a problem.

Moreover, though large numbers of combs are known from the terpen, the mounds themselves do not seem to have seen bone and antlerworking taking place on any great scale, or to any great degree of specialism (see Brandt 1984; Schmid 1994). More specialised output is identifiable at the sites identified as Langwurten (such as Emden and Groothusen: see Callmer 1998, 470, and references therein).

Beyond these sites, it can be difficult to discuss comb distributions and chronology, as the acid soils prevent good preservation (Callmer 1998, 470). Nonetheless, combs in the national museum include examples of Type 10 from late Roman contexts, Type 1a from Migration-period contexts, Types 1b, 2b, 2c, 3, and 5 from the terpen, and examples of Types 8a-c and 14a-b from later contexts (see Rijksmuseum van Oudheden n.d.). Types 2b, 2c and 5 are particularly numerous, while a number of hybrid Type 1b/2c forms are identifiable, suggesting some association of genesis. In addition, Callmer (1998) has noted a number of individual combs in the museums of Leiden, Leeuwarden and Groningen, but the author has not seen these and while they may be used to add to our picture of regional patterning, we still know little about the manufacture of such items in Frisia.

In medieval Antwerp (Oost 1982, 129, 133; Ervynck 1998), one may note combs of Types 3 and 6, while the site of Oost-Souberg provides a relatively rare opportunity to consider the combs in use during the 10th century. As one might expect, combs here include Types 3, 6, 7 and 12 (Lauwerier 1995).

 

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