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Antler comb

Roman, late 4th or early 5th century AD.

Found during excavations by the Archaeological Section of the Winchester Museum Service on Hyde Street (old SCATS building), Winchester, in 1979.

This elaborately decorated comb was found in the grave of a young woman buried in Winchester's northern Roman cemetery. The main part of the comb is decorated with rings and dots, and the end plates are carved figures with lots of rings and dots. Archaeologists believe that such combs were first made plain and then decorated to order. Popular motifs were owls, dolphins and horses. The trained eye can tell that this is a horse comb, the decorations on the end plate look like opposite pairs of horse heads. The decor on this crest is more pleasing than on a similar crest from Winchester East Cemetery.

Late Roman graves in the north cemetery often show signs of hasty or unceremonious burial in shallow graves and in strange body positions, without coffins. Quite a few people were buried face down, and some were beheaded (possibly, but not necessarily before death). This may be a sign of a low-status population, but it is not reflected in their grave goods, which are often quite thin, like this comb. Perhaps these people were victims of some epidemic or were killed in war or conflict, and had to be buried quickly, all at once.