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During Period 3, it is clear that at least a small amount of bone and antler-working was taking place on site, and it seems that much of this was focused on comb production. A horn-worker may also have been present nearby. The presence of these crafts suggests continuity with the site of 46-54 Fishergate (Rogers 1993).
The majority of bone-, antler- and horn-working debris came from deposits dated by pottery and coins to Period 3 (late 7th to mid-9th century), and when found in later features such material is considered residual. In order to aid understanding of manufacturing processes, waste from the working of skeletal materials is herein categorised as primary, secondary, and tertiary waste (a distinction first proposed by Niall Sharples). The primary stage involves the preliminary processing of unworked material. This might include the chopping or sawing up of an antler or large long bones into smaller, workable pieces. The process may be crude or systematic, and is likely to be represented in the archaeological record by large pieces of bone or antler, in which gross morphology is still largely intact. Marks from the chopping, cutting or sawing of materials might be visible.
The secondary stage involves the conversion of these fragments into roughly hewn blanks for the production of artefacts (e.g. pins) or components (e.g. the connecting plates or billets of composite combs). Thus, an antler or long bone might be split longitudinally into four or more segments, which may then be shaped, divested of all porous core material, and worked into blanks proper. Likewise, cattle ribs might be split in half in preparation for the removal of cancellous tissue. This stage might be recognised by the presence of half-worked or discarded blanks, often retaining vestiges of cancellous tissue or outer surface. Antler shavings are also frequently produced, but rarely recovered where sieving was not undertaken.
The tertiary stage of manufacture encompasses all of the final phases of construction, from shaping of pin heads and tips, the cutting of comb teeth, the decoration and riveting together of components, through to the final stages of trimming, smoothing and finishing. Such processes may be discernible in waste products; often very small, distinctive trimmings are produced, but these will only be apparent where a sieving strategy was incorporated into the collection policy.
Figure 1 shows how antlers were being broken down for the purposes of comb-making. Additionally, a pedicle spindle whorl, while not necessarily made at the site, suggests the pedicle was not always discarded as waste but was also converted into objects.
Material from the primary stages of bone-/antler-working was conspicuously absent. Although there were a few small fragments from the antler base, beam sections and the 'junction areas' of antlers were not recovered, while large fragments of domestic mammal bone were also uncommon. It is clear that red deer provided the antler for working. The burr found represents shed antler, rather than being cut from the head of a butchered deer. However, it is not possible to extrapolate this to define the source of all the worked antler. As well as antler, occasional evidence for the use of metapodials as a source of blanks was identified, for example, a sawn horse metapodial.
|Artefact 542, cut long bone horse metapodial|
Interestingly, the few pieces of waste from this early phase of manufacture relate not to bone or antler-working, but to horn-working. Two large cattle horncores from a Period 3 pit demonstrate clearly where their tips have been sawn off, and another, smaller fragment, probably comes from near the tip of a large horncore. Tips were probably sawn off in an effort to remove the horn sheath- the keratinaceous material used to make handles, combs and, in later periods, lantern windows. Horn rarely survives, but deposits of worked horncores are a tantalising indicator of the existence of this craft. Unfortunately, the small quantity of material found here tells us little, and cannot be used to propose the existence of a permanent horn workshop on or near the site.
|Artefact 951, cut cattle horncores|
Evidence for the secondary stage of artefact/comb manufacture is more forthcoming. There are quarter-beam segments cut prior to the production of blanks, as well as billet and connecting plate blanks at various stages of completion. Waste medullary tissue was also found in some quantity in various features.
|Artefact 951, waste medullary tissue|
Bone is common; there are several split cattle ribs, some with cancellous tissue only partially removed, and these probably represent the early stages of connecting plate manufacture. Antler is again identifiable as red deer, definitively in those blanks retaining vestiges of outer surface texture, and with more or less confidence in fragments in which cancellous core tissue is present (Ashby in prep).
Evidence for the latter phases of manufacture comes in the form of connecting plates that are finished bar decoration and riveting. Shaping has been carried out to a greater or lesser degree, and generally the intended eventual comb form may be perceived. Again, the use of ribs as well as antler is notable, while one connecting plate blank (Find no 2768) was even fashioned from what was probably a goat horncore. Horncores are comparatively porous, and as such are not ideal for the construction of objects such as combs. This may explain why Find no 2768 was never completed, and why parallels are rare in this or other periods.
Bone and antler were both important, as is the case at other Middle Anglian sites. Use of postcranial bone is even more noticeable here than at 46-54 Fishergate, but the sample is much smaller. It is overwhelmingly likely that the worked bone came from domestic animals, probably in the form of (uncooked) butchery waste, though the precise nature of the boneworker's interaction with the butcher is unclear. For its part, the antler seems to have been sourced from local animals; there is no evidence for imported exotic materials such as elk (Alces alces) or reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). At least some of this material was shed, rather than cut from hunted animals.
The nature of the Mid-Saxon comb-making craft/industry is unclear. Ian Riddler (1992) has argued that the pan-continental homogeneity in form that characterises Viking Age combs is not clearly evidenced in the wic sites of pre-Viking England, and that the rarity of continental imports suggests a more locally-based industry. Moreover, some would argue that the case for itinerancy even in the Viking Age is thus far unproven (e.g. Ashby in press). Equally in need of investigation is the question of the spatial arrangement of the various crafts and industries in Middle Saxon centres. Ian Riddler (2001) recently raised the possibility of 'zoning' at such sites, and this remains an important and interesting area of enquiry. Unfortunately, in isolation the collection from Blue Bridge Lane does little to shed light on the problems of the spatial extent or temporal permanence of bone- and antler-working. However, taken together with the material from 46-54 Fishergate, a certain level of homogeneity is discernible, and it is at least possible to say that it seems that bone crafts were taking place over a fairly wide area, rather than being concentrated in a small number of workshops situated closely together. Nevertheless, the quantity of antler waste recovered from the two sites is remarkable: 46-54 Fishergate recovered 1400 fragments of antler, while less than 60 were recovered from Blue Bridge Lane. This may in part have more to do with the difference in cubic metres of Anglian archaeology excavated; nevertheless the comparison is enough to suggest a focus for the industry to the north with less activity or industry to the apparently peripheral south. Whether this constitutes zonation or simply reflects less intense occupation at Blue Bridge Lane is not clear.