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North-western England

Despite the presence of important settlements, harbours, and market sites in this region (Meols and Chester are of particular note, see Carrington 1996; Garner 2008; Griffiths 1992a; 1992b; 1996; 2010; Mason 1985; Ward 1988; 1994), few combs are known from the area, and as a result none have been published in comparative perspective. It is striking that at the Roman to post-medieval site excavated at 25 Bridge Street, Chester, where worked bone was recovered from all other phases, no such artefacts were recovered from early medieval deposits, notwithstanding the demonstrated potential for the preservation of skeletal material (Cool 2008). Also in Chester, antler-working was identified in Late Saxon deposits at No. 1 Abbey Green (Lloyd-Morgan 1994c), but combs themselves are surprisingly rare in the city and, where recovered, fragmentation often precludes assignation to type (e.g. Lloyd-Morgan 1994d, 101). A notable exception comes from 17-19 Watergate Street, where excavations recovered a disarticulated plate from a comb case, probably originally associated with a Type 6 comb (Ward 1994, 102). From beyond Chester itself, one of the few well-known examples we do have is a Type 5 comb from an early Viking-Age burial at Hesket-in-the Forest, Cumbria, though this is now lost (Hodgson 1832, plate II).

This problem is further exacerbated when one considers that the Isle of Man, an area of otherwise well-evidenced Norse activity, has very few combs. No identifiable examples were recovered from settlement contexts at St Patrick's Isle, Peel (Freke 2002, 305-7), though a row of 'white-metal coated rivets' recovered from a grave in the cemetery there has been plausibly interpreted as the remains of a comb (Freke 2002, 70), and a single (highly degraded and fragmented) comb fragment was recovered from the nearby grave of the famous 'Pagan Lady' (Freke 2002, 66-9; fig. 20). Nonetheless, due to a coincidence of disadvantageous soil conditions and a relative lack of controlled settlement excavation, the comb corpus on the Isle of Man and the English east coast of the Irish Sea is small (see Wilson 2008).

 

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