The east Midlands and East Anglia

Viking-Age settlement in the east Midlands is often interpreted with reference to the establishment of the Danish 'Five Boroughs'. After the foundation of the Danelaw in AD 886, the east Midland towns of Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Stamford (together with Lincoln) became known as Scandinavian strongholds, and they might therefore seem appropriate places to survey portable material culture in diachronic perspective. Unfortunately the author was able to identify few combs from these key settlements. At Leicester at least, the explanation is likely to lie in the lack of preserved or excavated Late Saxon deposits from the city (Courtney 1998, 137). The county's rural settlements and cemeteries (such as Derbyshire's well-known 'Great Army' sites at Repton (Biddle and Kjølbye-Biddle 1992) and Heath Wood (Richards 2004) have thus far also failed to add significantly to the corpus. This region must remain an area for future study.

In Cambridgeshire, the situation is also a little opaque. Key pre-Viking evidence comes from early medieval gravefields: excavations at the cemetery at Burwell (Lethbridge 1931) recovered combs of Type 2b, but soil conditions at Shudy Camps were not conducive to the preservation of bone objects (Lethbridge 1936, 27), and the author has been unable to find sufficient published material to characterise the corpus accurately. Still further east, the settlements of East Anglia provide a considerable quantity of comb material for consideration. For the early Anglo-Saxon period, the site of West Stow in Suffolk is, of course, key (West 1985), and combs here include Types 1a, 2b, 10, 11, and 12. Double-sided forms dominate in 6th- and 7th-century phases, as was the case at Cleatham, Lincolnshire (Leahy 2007).

At the Middle Saxon minster site of North Elmham, Norfolk (Wade-Martin 1980, 485-87), the small collection of combs is interesting in that it is dominated by combs of Type 3 (including examples of both 'southern' slotted-tine and 'northern' bone-plated variants). For the later period, settlements at Thetford, Norwich, and Ipswich are of interest, and though the Ipswich material is not yet fully published, types present there include 5 and 6 (I. Riddler pers. comm.). Thetford provides a large collection of combs dated to the Viking Age, including a number of examples of Type 7 and a considerable quantity of Type 4 riveted mounts (Rogerson and Dallas 1984; Riddler 2004a; Riddler 2006b, 273). Much of the Norwich material comes from medieval levels, and consists of Type 14b combs (e.g. Margeson 2002, fig. 8: 10, 11), though fragmentary examples of Types 4, 5, 7, and indeterminate single-sided forms have been recovered (e.g. Margeson 2002, fig. 8:9; Huddle 2006). In all, East Anglia provides some of the richest comb material in the British Isles, but has yet to be synthesised within the wider corpus.

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Archived Comments

Any information regarding recently excavated comb material (or manufacturing waste) from the East Midlands (particularly the 'Five Borough' towns) would be of great interest to the author. Steve Ashby


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