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The west and south Midlands

In the west of the English mainland, Redknap (in prep.) notes that combs have been found in the Welsh marches, though few are well published. For the pre-Viking period, the presence of Types 1a and 12 at Bidford upon Avon's Anglian cemetery is of note (Humphreys et al. 1925), but later material from the west Midlands is relatively sparse, and not yet published in an easily accessible synthetic form. Excavations in Hereford, close to the English/Welsh border, have recovered a number of comb fragments, two of which are largely complete examples of Type 8b (Shoesmith 1985, 29-31, fig. 24). Interestingly, these are manufactured in post-cranial bone, rather than antler, and one example incorporates bone in addition to iron rivets. Otherwise, the west Midlands is quite poorly represented, with few published examples from the largely rural counties of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire.

In the south Midlands, the picture becomes a little clearer, as recent commercial excavations in Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire have facilitated the slow building of a regional corpus. In Northamptonshire, Type 12 combs are known from 5th- and 6th-century contexts at the estate centre of Higham Ferrers (Scott 2007, 119-21), and a Type 7 comb is known from a Late Saxon/medieval deposit at the excavations at St Peter's Street, Northampton (site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon monastery or palace complex; Oakley and Harman 1979), while unusual double-sided combs with differentiated teeth and incised ornament are known from disturbed later medieval levels at the manorial site of West Cotton (Chapman 2010, 349-51; Windell et al. 1990, fig. 18). These no doubt represent a rarely encountered (and presumably short-lived) post-conquest development on the Type 12 template. Finally, a survey of collections held by Northampton Museum and Northamptonshire Archaeology demonstrated that Types 1a, 4, 8b, 11, 12, 14a and 14b were known in the region, with examples from medieval sites in Kettering and Northampton, as well as at Brixworth, Finedon and Pitsford. There is also a Type 9 comb from Fish Street in Northampton Museum (author's data).

In Buckinghamshire, excavations in the Milton Keynes area have been similarly productive. Most noteworthy is the collection from the Pennyland site, where eight Type 12 combs have been recovered from Early to Middle Saxon levels (Riddler 1993, 107, fig. 58). Finally, a fragment from the connecting plate of a Type 7 comb is known from Bradwell Bury (Riddler 1994, fig. 16).

The early medieval archaeology of the Oxford region has become well known in recent years, with a number of large-scale commercial excavation and survey projects being undertaken by Oxford Archaeology. These sites are particularly useful in giving a context for the use and development of Viking-Age combs. Key sites include Oxford itself (Dodd 2003), the important monastic site at Eynsham (Hardy et al. 2003), the Anglo-Saxon settlements at Barrow Hills and Barton Court Farm (Chambers and McAdam 2007) and Yarnton (Hey 2004). Also of note are the classic excavations of Shakenoak in the 1960s (Brodribb et al. 1972). At all of these Mid-Saxon sites, Type 12 combs are important (e.g. Booth et al. 2007, 353-5; Hey 2004, fig. 15.8, no. 23).

To provide a little more detail, there are a large number (23) of fragmentary double-sided combs from 5th- to 7th-century contexts at Barrow Hills. Most fit well into Types 11 and 12, though a few share similarities with Type 10. This is in itself unsurprising, given the site's proximity to a Late Roman cemetery, the likelihood of some level of continuity of settlement in the area, and the suggestion that comb-making may itself have been taking place at the site (Chambers and McAdam 2007, 256-7). Also of note is an example from Yarnton Creswell field, which has been radiocarbon-dated to AD 640-810 (see Bayliss and Hey 2004, 21, table 13.1), consistent with the type's floruit in the Middle Saxon period. Other material recorded from these sites comprises fragmentary single-sided forms, including ornate examples of Type 3 from Dorney and Barton Court Farm (Chambers and McAdam 2007; Booth et al. 2007, fig. 6.42; see also Foreman et al. 2002). Tenth-and eleventh-century comb material is scarce in the literature, and more generally, Viking-Age activity in this region invites further research. Type 14b is again limited to medieval and post-medieval contexts (e.g. Dodd 2003, fig. 6.16).

 

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