Composite combs of bone and antler are one of the most common finds from the Early Medieval period. Produced in seemingly endless styles and sizes – single sided, double sided, handled, plain, zoomorphic and so on, they are found on settlements and in graves across Europe. Starting in the 10th century, single piece horn combs with bone stiffeners also began to appear.
Antler was by far the preferred material for combs (the best of all being naturally shed rather than cut from a carcass). Compared to bone, antler has far superior properties for comb making as it is approximately 3x stronger than a piece of comparable sized bone.
Despite this though, there is a period of a few centuries (around the 7th/8th C or Middle Saxon period) when the use of the bone increased significantly.
However, for display purposes, there is visually not a lot of difference between the two materials (a fact that has frustrated artefacts specialists for some years!) but there is a unfortunately a cost difference. Due to this, we would usually recommend that bone is used over antler for display pieces or examples that will not see a lot of use.
The examples below show a range of the combs we have already produced for both private individuals and museums.
Additionally, for museum displays, we can also supply a range of materials samples, “in progress” pieces and so on to show the stages of manufacture for these combs. An example of this can be seen in the Tankerness House Museum, Kirkwall where the following range was supplied as part of a display on Viking antler combs. In this display there is a completed comb as well as one at the tooth cutting stage, a pair of tooth plates (one rough and one finished), a pair of sideplates (one rough and one finished) and samples of the material.