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Scotland

Map of Scotland showing comb finds
Legend

Despite the quantity of recorded material, the situation in Scotland is frustratingly difficult to assess, given the lack of sites with well-stratified, tightly dateable deposits. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to review briefly what is known of combs from past published reports. The greater part of the corpus comes from what may be referred to as 'Atlantic Scotland' (comprising the Northern and Western Isles and coasts), with scattered material from the southern borderlands, and very few examples from central Scotland. Targeted analyses of the Scottish dataset are undertaken elsewhere (see Ashby 2009; Ashby in press a), and these detailed reviews are not repeated here.

Sites with combs from phases dated to the pre-Viking period include (inter alia) Buiston crannog, Ayrshire (Crone 2000), the Howe and the Broch of Burrian, both in Orkney (Ballin Smith 1994; MacGregor 1975), Scalloway, Shetland (Smith 1998), and Dun Cuier, Western Isles (Young 1956). Combs from these sites include examples of Types 1c, 11, and 12. 'Transitional' or 'Early Viking' phases at sites such as the Brough of Birsay (Curle 1982), Saevar Howe (Hedges 1983), and site 2, Skaill, Deerness (Porter 1997) (all Orkney), have contained a mixture of comb types, including Types 1c, 12, 5, and 6. There are also a number of sites with Viking-Age phases dominated by combs traditionally seen as 'Scandinavian' (such as Type 5). These sites include settlements such as Jarlshof (Hamilton 1956) (Shetland), and a number of furnished burials (e.g. Thorsteinsson 1968; Owen and Dalland 1999). Though associated finds allow the latter to be placed broadly in the period between c. AD 850 and 950 (Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998, 152-4, most of the former are poorly dated (but see Quoygrew and Pool: Barrett in prep; Hunter 2007). The chronology and distribution of 9th-century combs is covered in detail in Ashby 2009, and need not be rehearsed here. Suffice it to say that the diverse collections of Atlantic Scotland are indicative of a range of contacts, probably including Anglo-Saxon England and Ireland, as well as Scandinavia.

Sites dated to the late Viking Age and medieval period, such as those at Freswick Links, Caithness (Batey 1987) have been dominated by combs of forms 9 and 13. However, it should be noted that stratigraphy is lacking at many of these sites, and that as a result the dating of these artefacts is based to a large degree on European parallels. Nonetheless, material from recent excavations in Atlantic Scotland broadly seems to support the pattern (e.g. Quoygrew and Pool, both in Orkney: Barrett and Gerrard 2004; Smith 2007). Western Scotland is more difficult to assess, as important collections from the Udal, Kilpheder, and Bornais are yet to reach full publication (though see Sharples 2005). Nonetheless, the author's survey of material from the latter two of these sites, together with the small published corpus from Whithorn, demonstrate the importance of Type 8 combs in this region (e.g. Nicholson 1997; see Ashby in press a for a discussion).

 

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