Map of Norway showing comb finds


Despite some large scale interventions (e.g. Munch et al. 2003; Skre and Stylegar 2004), combs from Viking-Age sites in western Scandinavia are not well synthesised. Nonetheless, a number of combs are curated by Norway's University museums, now available online (University Museums of Norway n.d.), and readers are directed to this resource for an introduction to the early (pre-AD 1000) Norwegian material in particular. Late Viking-Age and medieval material is better known. Collections from a number of Norwegian cities are well studied, and material from Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen are of particular note. Other settlements in Norway are difficult to comment upon. To date, little has been published on the combs from excavations in Tønsberg, for example (though Erikson and Ulricksen [1990] at least demonstrate the presence of Types 9 and 13). Here it will suffice to relate a little of the patterning, based on a number of key sites.

Pre-and early Viking-Age sites in Norway | Oslo | Trondheim | Bergen


Early material is rare and difficult to interpret, while the late Viking-Age and medieval pattern in Norway is relatively well understood in broad terms, but lacks a consistent internal chronology. Type 5 dominates collections of 9th- and 10th-century material, after which point Type 9 becomes common. A period of transition from Type 9 to Type 13 can be seen around the end of the 12th century, though there is certainly no clear-cut watershed. Further research is necessary before one may confidently posit a chronological development of Scandinavian high- and later medieval combs. Such research would necessarily consider combs from well-dated deposits across northern Europe, such that spatial and temporal variation might be characterised. Moreover, if one is to identify chronological development in morphology, statistical techniques such as correspondence analysis must be used in tandem with traditional intuitive methods of qualitative sorting. Until such an exercise has been undertaken, interpretations drawn from analyses of patterning within 11th- to 14th-century combs must necessarily remain tentative. There is thus much work to be done, but there is nonetheless considerable potential for these combs to inform understanding of medieval trade and industry. Recent interpretative syntheses (e.g. Hansen 2005) point the way forward.

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Archived Comments

There are, of course, considerable numbers of combs from graves in Norway. Mapping these sites would be a major undertaking, and is beyond the scope of this review. Thus, the map above simply identifies some of the key collections and better-known examples. I would appreciate information regarding recently excavated material from both burial and settlement sites. Steve Ashby


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