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The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the potential of non-metallic finds: A Viking Comb from Shotley, Suffolk

Steven P. Ashby, Lewis Tomlinson, Samantha Presslee, Jessica Hendy, Alex Bliss, Faye Minter and Dan Brock

Cite this as: Ashby, S.P., Tomlinson, L., Presslee, S., Hendy, J., Bliss, A., Minter, F. and Brock, D. 2023 The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the potential of non-metallic finds: A Viking Comb from Shotley, Suffolk, Internet Archaeology .


This article presents a case study in maximising the potential of publicly collected archaeological finds, through collaboration between finder, recorder, curating institution and the research community. It focuses on an object reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, of a type not usually well represented among metal-detected finds: an early-medieval antler hair comb. Typological and biomolecular analysis of the comb - found on the shores of the river Orwell, Suffolk - shows that it was manufactured in Scandinavia in the mid-10th century, before being brought to south-east England. This is the first comb found in England to be identified as Scandinavian via biomolecular means, and represents an important, scientifically-verified demonstration of contact between the regions in the period following initial settlement.

Photo of the Shotley comb
The Shotley comb. Image credit: Suffolk County Council, CC-BY-SA
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  • Keywords: metal-detecting, portable antiquities, viking, combs, antler, early-medieval, RTI, 3D-scanning, digital imaging
  • Accepted: 22 November 2023. Published: 7 December 2023
  • Supporting ZooMS data available at:
  • Funding: The York Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry was created thanks to a major capital investment through Science City York, supported by Yorkshire Forward with funds from the Northern Way Initiative, and subsequent support from EPSRC (EP/K039660/1; EP/M028127/1). The publication of the article was supported by the Department of Archaeology, University of York's Open Access Fund.
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Corresponding author: Steven P. Ashby ORCID logo
Dept. Archaeology, University of York

Lewis Tomlinson
Dept. Archaeology, University of York

Samantha PressleeORCID logo
Dept. Archaeology/BioArCH, University of York

Jessica HendyORCID logo
Dept. Archaeology/BioArCH, University of York

Alex Bliss
Cotswold Archaeology

Faye Minter
Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service

Dan Brock
Dept. Archaeology, University of York

Full text

Figure 1a / Figure 1b: Map showing the approximate location of the comb's findspot. Image credit: Aleks McClain

Figure 2a / Figure 2b: a) Image of the comb. Image credit: Suffolk County Council, CC-BY-SA. b) Drawing of the Shotley comb. Image credit: Donna Wreathall

Figure 3: The key elements of a single-sided composite comb. Image credit: Pat Walsh

Figure 4: RTI Image of the Shotley comb. Image credit: Dan Brock

Figure 5: 3D Model of the Shotley comb. Image credit: Dan Brock

Figure 6: MALDI-ToF spectrum of the Shotley comb. Image credit: Sam Presslee

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