Comb-making in medieval Novgard (950-1450): An industry in transition

Comb-making in medieval Novgard (950-1450): An industry in transition

By Lyuba Smirnova

PhD Dissertation, Bournemouth University (2002)

Abstract: This is a descriptive and analytical study of combs used for the hygienic and aesthetic purposes of cleaning, disentangling and arranging hair. Hundreds of these products of professional artisans made out of skeletal materials and wood forming the basis of this research, derive from major excavation sites investigated during 1951-2000 in the medieval town of Novgorod (NW Russia). The site covers the extensive overall area of over 23,000 sq.m bearing stratified waterlogged deposits and structures dating from ca 950 to ca 1450. The objects in the assemblage are analysed typologically (survey of comb morphological traits) and contextually (chronological and spatial distributional analyses).

As a result, chronological trends and stylistic changes are outlined with regard to combs themselves and their relationship to the immediate environment of the propertiesthey originate from, as well as to broader contexts of the town quarters (Ends), Novgorod as a whole and, to a certain extent, to the complex of Northern European urban communities. The combs are used for gaining insights into the character and status of artisans through the analysis of aspects concerning the use of raw materials and application of specific techniques,and into the characterand status of consumers.

It is demonstrated that behind distribution patterns of particular comb types lie such important spheres as craft specialization, trade, the movement of commodities and shifts of fashion, reflecting the changing demands of the consumer’s market. The comb study draws out some fundamental changesin the comb repertoire and the comb-making industry in its transition from the late Viking Age through the Middle Ages. It can also be seen against the background of the developmentof urban society and, as’such, becomes a valuable source for further comprehensiveanalysis of the character of life in medieval Novgorod, which involves assembling and correlating of relevant data.

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