comb-info-art - 12/25/02
An article on source material for medieval combs and how to make them by Master Magnus Malleus. Includes references on how to work horn and bone materials.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2002 19:40:15 -0500
From: rmhowe <MMagnusM at bellsouth.net>
To: - Atlantia <atlantia at atlantia.sca.org>,
"- SCA-ARTS at listsvr.pca.net" <sca-arts at listsvr.pca.net>
Subject: New CD on Combs by the Frojel folks
Lets see if we can start a bit of a comb making among the general
reenactor populace with the stuff mentioned below.
How many of you have one I wonder? Well, it's time to be a bit more
unique and resourceful. Here's an opportunity to make something to
be proud of. I have included resources for the materials below as well.
New 'Viking and Medieval Combs, Gotland, Sweden' CD on Combs
(and comb making) by the Frojel, Gotland, Sweden folks:
Second in a series from Gotland University's Archaeology Department.
I've already received one. Part of the format is Adobe Acrobat Reader,
which is free for download if you don't already have it. Part of it
is plain html and the comb pictures are simple jpg illustrations with
identification below them. The galleries provide navigation arrows
I've been getting Viking Heritage Magazine from the Frojel folks for
years now and there have been many good articles. It's an interesting
quarterly with color and black and white illustrations about current
excavations and research. It also has articles on current events in
reenacting in Europe and elsewhere.
I've also bought books from them besides the magazine which is in
The money helps fund their projects and excavations.
The large island of Gotland is where over 80% of the Viking age
finds in Sweden come from. It was a major trading centre in the
Baltic up until the Battle of Visby. Gotland was a crossroads for
trade and a place that supplied many of the Viking traders/raiders.
One book I have speculated as many as 2000 Vikings per year from an
average population of 14,000 on the island. One dress item that is
specific to Gotland are the animal headed brooches that look like
stylistic bear or badger heads. You will see a couple of them on
the Frojel website. Frojel is a viking harbor on Gotland where
Dan Carlsson does most of his yearly excavations. He's written books
in Swedish on the harbors and finds there.
This CD's on Viking and Medieval Combs from the Island of Gotland,
but I can tell you these are pretty illustrative of the majority
of medieval combs from my research.
There are seven picture galleries on the disc including some rare
bronze combs. The Bronze combs don't generally appear in the books
and articles I have on combs and skeletal material working.
The so-called Comb Beaters for weaving don't generally either. At
least not like these. (These are made from metacarsals. The little
hole from the outside to the marrow which the vein passes through
is unmistakable. Bone spoons are made from the same surface with
the spoon bowl near the hole. It is thin there, the thicker handle
area lies to the other end.)
The CD's combs illustrated range from the 6th through the 15th centuries
so they would be appropriate for most of the medieval period.
There is even a rather thick horse comb which is also unusual.
There is a 12 page illustrated pdf document with instructions on how
to make combs, an illustrated timeline of types, and a bibliography
The scaled photographs with end views and top views included show
very clearly how the combs were assembled and some of them have
quite a variety of decoration. For the price of a CD you get a
good tutorial, and better variety (in color) than if you spent several
hundred dollars searching out books and articles that are rather
hard to find. You would spend more on postage for the scarcer
items than you would for the total cost of the CD. So get yourself one.
While there are some regional types of handled multi-piece combs
that are not included, such as the relatively rare long handled
Anglo-Saxon variety, the majority of the combs are appropriate to a
large portion of Europe over the majority of the Medieval Period. The
single piece antler combs shown were even made similarly in wood until
the last century in very similar forms. The high bowed backed comb
is similar to the early Frisian Combs found in England in one of the
articles I have by MacGregor.
Considering the cost and availability of most books and articles
dealing with medieval combs this is a bargain. I know this because
I have quite a few of them myself from Scandinavia and Britain.
Most of them are scarce and very hard to find and the illustrations
are rarely ever in color as are 85% of the ones on this CD.
I have written Dan to tell him that there is a problem on the
current CD I have with the links for the Combs from Fjale. These are
still viewable from the CD disc index currently but I am sure he will
fix that on newer ones. It may cause a slight delay.
These combs are quite attractive and varied in form.
> The galleries are covering different forms of combs, from
> Early Viking Age to Middle Ages. There are also galleries
> about comb cases as well as the strenght form of combs
> called comb beater. Some of the combs are presented
> from different angles, to give a view of their constructions.
> All in all, there are more then 100 pictures of combs. The
> measurement of the combs is in centimetre.
> All the combs are from the island of Gotland, a real centre
> in the Viking world, situated in the middle of the Baltic Sea.
> Still the combs represent very much the typical Viking
> comb, while the comb making were fairly alike from Staraja
> Ladoga in the east to Dublin in the west.
> The gallery about combs from Fjäle is displaying different
> forms of decorations of early Viking combs (8th-9th century).
Staraja Ladoga was a western Russian site with a scandinavian
settlement. West of Novgorod and Moscow. While I've been looking
for it, I have yet to find anything in English on the finds from
it. The Novgorod finds are mostly in Russian but there are a few
books in English on that site.
For those wishing to buy horn, antler, or bone to make these items
with see the following:
> ANTLER FOR SALE: 4/01
> Folks; I am an elk rancher and have an assortment of antler available.
> This is a very versatile product and makes excellent carvings,
> scrimshaw, turnings (especially pens), etc. also have Deer, Elk, Moose
> & Reindeer antler in stock For more info please contact by email at :
> bullandbugle at hotmail.com
> Sincerely; John M Mullins, Bull & Bugle Ranch
Need copper (rivet) wire? Check your local electrical supplies section
in the hardware store and get a similarly sized drill bit too.
Ten or twelve gauge wire would be just fine.
Simple job to peen soft copper a bit on the ends and file it flush.
You should talk with your local state or country game department
before attempting to sell wild animal parts or items made from
them. In my state it is illegal to sell wild animal parts of animals
stocked in this state. However, it is legal to make things of them
or to buy them from out of state. Here in North Carolina, U.S.A. it
is illegal to sell elk, deer, bear, etc. Moose is legal to sell. For
antler natural sheds this seems a bit much but with poachers decimating
the bear population for the Chinese market it seems sensible. I've known
several people arrested, who had their items confiscated, homes and
businesses searched too, and heavily fined for doing it here. But a
comb for an event prize or a personal implement you made to use for
yourself or friends wouldn't cause any problem here. I've spoken to
the top game law enforcement officer here about it.
Most of the cow bone can be bought from your local pet supplier.
The metacarsals from cattle are what I use. The smaller end
has the thicker bone. I have made highly carved spoons and
dress pins from it after examples from England.
Some of these are supplied pre-sanitized and are cleaned inside and out.
Generally these run from $4-6 U.S.. Do not buy the large femur bone with
the ball end. That is not what you want unless you are going to
make a spindle whorl from the end of the ball, which was a common
practice. According to my literature most of these are undecorated.
An article I was reading last night said they found 15 at one site
alone and that they were commonly found on medieval sites.
As far as taking out the antler panels in pieces from the calcareous
cores a technique dating back to pre-historic times was to soak them
for at least 4 days, then scrape V shaped grooves lengthwise and
pop them off the core. Of course you can also break the antler into
sections by scribing rings around the circumference and snapping them.
Most things cut well with an ordinary hacksaw. But if you don't have
to deal with the dense spongy (calcareous) material underneath it
would be a big plus.
I haven't yet tried the soaking technique but I intend to. I found
it this week in an archaeological article I bought called The Groove and
Splinter Technique of Working Antler in Upper Paleolithic and
Mesolithic Europe by J. Clarke in _Proceedings of the Prehistoric
Society 19, 1953_, I got in this last week. [See, I told you I had
articles and books on this stuff... Well, nicely carved bone spoons go
way back to the First Temperate Neolithic Period. That's another
Using the same metacarsal cow bone used in later period as well.]
One of the combs on the CD actually appeared to be planed or more
likely scratch stocked with a beaded profile down the length of
the combcase. This is quite apparent looking at the end profile.
A scratch stock is a slotted piece of wood in an L shape that
has a shaped metal piece in it. One side of the L bears against
the side of the item being worked and the design profile is
scraped in with repeated motions. Dod the Vikings have planes?
Yes they did. One is depicted in Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga
and a large one made of antler in Du Chaillu's The Vikings.
Scratch stocks I can't recall but something was certainly used.
Profiled molding irons were found in the Mastermyr Chest.
The now rare bible of skeletal material work was written by:
Arthur MacGregor. Bone, Antler, Ivory & Horn: the Technology of
Materials Since the Roman Period. Totowa: Barnes & Noble. 1985. ISBN
0-389-20531-1 (out of print)
A newer book by him, not terribly dissimilar is in the York
AY 17/12 MacGregor, A, A.J. Mainman, and N.S.H. Rogers: Bone, Antler,
Ivory and Horn from Anglo-Scandinavian York; The Archaeology of York,
the Small Finds, 17/12 Craft, Industry and Everyday Life; Published
by the British Council for Archaeology, Bowes Morrell House, 111
York, Y01 9WA, England, ISBN 1872414990, 936.2'843, Published for the
York Archaeological Trust, 1999, 213 pp. with Illustrations.
Price: £22.50 plus p&p. I expect this to sell out. So if you want one...
This can be ordered directly from the York folks who ship rather
I highly suggest ordering what you want because some of these books
are not reprinted, like the excellent Coppergate Helmet book.
The previous Arkeodok CD, which is very successful, is on Viking Beads.
The next CD may be the one on knives and sheathes. Some of the
sheathes from Gotland had metal fittings riveted on allowing them to be
recreated accurately even though most of the leather was gone.
If you are interested in the more expensive way to get the pictures
of these they are in the series Wikingerzeit Gotlands books by Lena
Thunmark-Nylens, which run about $65 each plus postage. The first
two books are pictures by type and by grave find. The successive
three books will be descriptive. The title means Viking Age Gotland.
Available more cheaply through David Brown Book Co./Oxbow Books.
Dan wrote me that they are also looking into making older archaeological
books available on CDs.
Master Magnus Malleus, OL, GDH, Atlantia © 2002 R.M. Howe
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