A young Roman lady’s comb -taken with her to the grave.

This comb is made of antler, and dated to the late 4th or early 5th century AD. It was found during excavations by Winchester Museums Service Archaeology Section in Hyde Street, Winchester, England in 1979.

This artefact is courtesy of & can be viewed at the City Museum, Venta Gallery, Winchester, England (WINCM:HYS79 S17). The following description is given:

This elaborately decorated comb was found in the grave of a young woman buried in Winchester’s northern Roman cemetery. The main body of the comb has ring-and-dot decoration, and the end plates, cut-out shapes with more ring-and-dot. Archaeologists believe that combs such as these were first made plain, and then decorated to order. Popular motifs were owls, dolphins and horses. With the eye of faith, it can be seen that this is a horse comb- the end plate decoration looks like opposing pairs of horses’ heads. The decoration on this comb is somehow more pleasing than the similar comb from Winchester’s eastern cemetery.

Late Roman graves in the northern cemetery often show signs of hasty or unceremonious burial in shallow graves and in odd body positions, without coffins. Quite a few people were buried face down and some were decapitated (possibly but not necessarily before death). This could be a sign of a low-status group within the population, but it is not reflected in their grave goods, which are often rather fine like this comb. It may be that these people succumbed to an epidemic of some kind or were killed in warfare or conflict and had to be buried rapidly, all at once.

Photo via the Hampshire Museums Flickr page.

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