In the footsteps of Ohthere: biomolecular analysis of early Viking Age hair combs from Hedeby (Haithabu)

Mariana Muñoz-Rodriguez, Samantha Presslee, Krista Mcgrath, Niklas Hausmann, Volker Hilberg, Sven Kalmring, Lena Holmquist, Jessica Hendy, Steven Paul Ashby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hedeby was the largest town in the Viking North. Investigations have identified imports at the site from central and northern Scandinavia revealing long-distance connections. The chronology of this trade, however, is unclear. Here, the authors use a typological-biomolecular approach to examine connections during the early Viking Age. The application of ZooMS to an assemblage of antler combs, stylistically dated to the ninth century AD, reveals nearly all were made of reindeer antler. As most craft production waste from Hedeby comprises red deer antler, it is argued that these combs were manufactured elsewhere, perhaps hundreds of kilometres further north. The results have implications for understanding of production and regional connectivity in early medieval Scandinavia.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Early online date22 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project has received funding from the European Union's EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 under Marie Curie Actions Grant Agreement No. 676154.

Funding Information:
We thank Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Schloß Gottorf, for permission to sample the Hedeby combs, and the York Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry at the University of York for the use of the Ultraflex III MALDI-ToF/ToF instrument. The centre was created thanks to a major capital investment through Science City York, supported by Yorkshire Forward with funds from the Northern Way Initiative, and subsequent support from EPSRC (EP/K039660/1; EP/M028127/1). We thank the anonymous reviewers for invaluable comments and feedback.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.


  • antler combs
  • connectivity
  • reindeer
  • Scandinavia
  • trade network
  • Viking Age
  • ZooMS

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