Accessibility statement


henna'd hand for TASTE (technologies of apperance) symposium series.  Copyright A Leonard.

Technologies of Adornment,

Strategies of Transformation and Enchantment

This group is interested in developing integrated and theoretically-informed approaches to the study of human attitudes to appearance and the body, with particular reference to its maintainance, manipulation, transformation and adornment.  The group holds no chronological, geographical or cultural boundaries, and is interested in identifying synergies and analogies across diverse contexts. General issues of interest include:

  • The body as a canvas for social display, or as an active agent in communication
  • The body and its transformation in life and in death
  • Technologies and equipment associated with bodily transformation and adornment
  • Analytical techniques and their potential for furthering understanding of past treatments of the body
  • Development and application of social theory to the understanding of the body and its transformation

Particular interests of members are outlined below.


Staff and Specific Interests

Jo Fletcher

Together with Stephen Buckley, I am currently working on the Ancient Adornments Project.  This project is set up to study forms of personal adornment in ancient cultures, and combines academic research and scientific analysis with the expertise of hairdressers, wig makers, perfume makers and historical costumiers. As a means of better understanding the past through the ways in which people chose to adorn themselves, the project’s work has been widely disseminated through academic and popular publications, museum installations, television reconstructions and educational events throughout the UK, Europe and the US.  The project covers:

  • Hairstyles, wigs and hair extensions, hair jewellery, hairpins, combs, hair curlers, hair fixatives, dyes
  • Facial cosmetics, cosmetic containers, applicator sticks, cosmetic palettes
  • Perfumes, perfume containers, perfume ingredients
  • Manicure equipment
  • Tattoo designs, tattooing equipment, body paint
  • Cranial modification
  • Crowns, hats, veils, masks
  • Jewellery, amulets
  • Clothing accessories, eg. fans


Steve Ashby

Developing out of my work on the manufacture and trade of Viking-Age and medieval hair combs, my recent work has turned to their use.  This has in turn led to a  more general interest in the significance of hair as a medium for communication, and of grooming as a technology of transformation and representation.  I am interested in the social theory of prehistory and anthropology, and in applying it in novel ways to early medieval material culture.  I have a particular concern with the integration of archaeologies of the bodyand studies of the symbolico-magical qualities of art and technology.  Much of interest has been undertaken in the study of Roman and classical society, as well as in 20th-century non-western societies, and there is considerable scope for parallel work in the Viking Age and medieval period.  Particular themes of interest include:

  • Rituals and technologies of grooming
  • The material culture of bodily transformation: its invested meaning and social significance, and role in direct display (e.g. as a dress accessory)
  • Appearance as medium of communication


Members of the group based in York will meet regularly on an informal basis, in order to discuss ideas and develop plans for a more formal programme of events.  Ultimately, our aim is to bring together specialists (whether archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, or practitioners) from the UK and beyond to debate case studies and general themes relating to the creation and management of personal appearance.  This will be achieved through a series of symposia, each with a particular focus.  Our first symposium (currently in planning) will be based around the subject of 'Hair'.  If you are interested in participlating in this or future events (whether as a speaker or simply as a delegate), please contact Steve or Jo.

Forthcoming Events

More to come! 

Select Bibliography

Ashby, S. P. 2009. "Combs, contact, and chronology: reconsidering hair combs in Early-historic and Viking-Age Atlantic Scotland." Medieval Archaeology 53: 1-33.

Ashby, S.P. 2011. The language of the combmaker. A study of craft and technology in early medieval England.  In Baron, J et al. (eds), Proceedings of the Meeting of the 7th Meeting of the Worked Bone Research Group 2009.  Wroclaw, University of Wroclaw, pp.9-24. Available from White Rose Repository here.

Ashby, S.P. 2013. Making a Good Comb: Mercantile Identity in 9th to 11th-century England. In Ten-Harkel, L. and Hadley, D.M. (eds), Everyday Life in Viking Towns: Social Approaches to Towns in England and Ireland c. 800-1100, Oxford: Oxbow, pp.193-208.

Ashby, S.P. 2014. Technologies of Appearance: hair behaviour in Early-Medieval Britain and Europe. Archaeological Journal 171: 153–86.

Ashby, S.P. in press. Disentangling trade: combs in the North and Irish Seas in the Long Viking Age. In Barrett, J.H. and Gibbon, S.-J. (eds), Maritime Societies of the Viking and Medieval World.  London: Boydell.

Fletcher, J. 1994. Cosmetics & Bodycare. In Vogelsang-Eastwood, G. (ed.), Clothing of the Pharaohs. Leiden, Brill: pp. 126-138.

Fletcher, J. 1994. Wigs and Hairdressing. In Vogelsang-Eastwood, G. (ed.), Clothing of the Pharaohs.  Leiden, Brill: pp. 103-111.

Fletcher, J. 1994. "A Tale of Wigs, Hair and Lice " Egyptian Archaeology 5: 31-33.

Fletcher, J. 1998. The Human Hair from the tomb of Tutankhamun: a re-evaluation. In Eyre, C. (ed.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists. Leuven, Peeters: pp. 403-407.

Fletcher, J. 1998. Oils and Perfumes of Ancient Egypt. London, British Museum Press.

Fletcher, J. 1999. The Wig & Wig Box. In Vogelsang-Eastwood, G. (ed.), Tutankhamun's Wardrobe: garments from the tomb of Tutankhamun.  Rotterdam, van Doorn & Co: pp. 67-68.

Fletcher, J. 2000. Hair. In Nicholson, P. and Shaw, I. (ed.),  Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology.  Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: pp. 495-501.

Fletcher, J. 2002. "Ancient Egyptian Wigs & Hairstyles." The Ostracon: Journal of the Egyptian Study Society 13 (2): 2-8

Fletcher, J. 2005. The Decorated Body in Ancient Egypt: hairstyles, cosmetics and tattoos. In Cleland, L., Harlow, M. and Llewellyn-Jones, L. (eds), The Clothed Body in the Ancient World.  Oxford, Oxbow: pp. 3-13.

Fletcher, J. 2007: Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History, The Smithsonian

Fletcher, J. 2009: The Heron-Allen Collection of Egyptian Scarabs, Proceedings of the 8th Heron-Allen Symposium 2008: Opusculum XII, p.14-29.