Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 2-2 (November 2010)Ton Derks; Wouter Vos: Wooden combs from the Roman fort at Vechten: the bodily appearance of soldiers

2 Basic description of the Vechten combs

At present, twelve wooden combs have been documented from Vechten. Three are known from the former collection of the Provinciaal Utrechts Genootschap (Society for the Province of Utrecht). These were found during the 1892-1894 excavations conducted by the Utrecht archivist S. Muller Fzn. (cat.nos. 1-3; pl. 1.1-3, 2.1-3; for the location of these excavations immediately to the north of the castellum, Polak & Wynia 1991; Kloosterman & Polak 2007, map 3.). The remaining nine specimens were collected as surface finds in 1977 and have been in private possession since (cat. nos. 4-12; pl. 1.4-12, 2.4-12). Like the vast majority of wooden combs found across the Roman empire, all twelve specimens from Vechten are made of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), a close-grained wood species famous in antiquity for its resistance to splitting.[1] Typologically, all combs are of the double-sided H format with a significantly greater length than width, convex terminals and a lentoid section. Through a different number of teeth on each side of a central bar, these double-sided combs combine a coarse and a fine comb in one object. The long sides of the central bar often still show a straight or compass cut groove, which served as a guideline for the comb maker when sawing the teeth. In order to minimise breaking, in most cases a deliberate selection was made for radial billets, which were taken from the core of the living tree across the tree-rings to the exterior of the stem or branch. This allowed the comb maker to follow the direction of the tree-rings when sawing the teeth. Often the rings are still easily recognisable on the central bar. In cases where the combs have been broken, the breaking line coincides with the vertical line of a tree-ring boundary.[2]


Fig. 2: Satellite image of the area around Vechten with centre stage, in red, the site of the Roman army camp and immediately to the east the late 19th-century Fort Vechten, which constituted part of the New Dutch Water Line (Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie). The approximate find spot of the wooden combs, just to the north of the Roman fort and just to the south of the motorway A12, is marked by a red asterisk. As may be seen from the inset map on the right (after Vos 2009 , fig. 2.7), this spot coincides with a former channel of the river Rhine.