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

1 Introduction

The Roman fort of Vechten lies to the west of the modern town of Utrecht (fig. 2). In the Roman period, the fort was situated directly on the river Rhine. The old river channel, which has been recorded just to the north of the fort, silted up in the 3rd century AD. This river channel was cut in 1977 during construction works for the broadening of a motorway, when many extraordinary finds from the Roman period were brought to light. As a result of the lack of regular excavations, only a small part of the finds was saved from final destruction due to the efforts of amateur archaeologists. In the years to follow, some of the most spectacular finds were reported in Westerheem, the main journal of amateur archaeologists in the Netherlands (Kalee 1980, 1981, 1989; Van Driel-Murray 1980), but the majority of the small finds has remained unpublished. This contribution takes as its starting point the wooden combs from Vechten and attempts to tease out their significance for the reconstruction of garrison life in this Roman fort.


Fig. 1 Location of Vechten

After a short description of the finds, their position in the typo-chronological framework and their representativeness, we will briefly discuss the production and distribution of wooden combs in the Roman Empire. Drawing on the multi-vocality of material culture, we will discuss the commonly accepted gender and status ascription of combs. Our discussion is based on the analysis of literary sources, contextual analysis of archaeological finds and the use of analogy in order to arrive at a better understanding of the roles these multi-purpose objects may have played in structuring garrison life in a Roman army camp on the frontier.