Worked and unworked antler
Throughout the period certain "natural" looking handles seem to be avoided. The many examples of antler handles have the crown and the outer surface removed, just as bone handles have the epiphysis removed. All handles from the simplest awl to the most ornate saex seem to have been at least smoothed and usually have a minimum of simple ring-&-dot, incised lines or similar for decoration.
A good example of simple tool handles can be found in the 8th C Birsay box (http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/.../archiveDownload...) page 189.
Health and safety note: when grinding antler and or bone, please do wear a mask. The particles are toxic and can easily lead to the same diseases as asbestos! If you are creating bone dust wear a FFP3 or N100 level dustmask. Further details of respiratory safety while bone working can be found here.
The outer part of antler is solid cortical bone and exceptional hard and dense; this is what the short prongs ("tines") are made of. As can be seen from the thousands of combs and comb fragments found, even small slivers of this cortical tissue has a very good survival rate (except in certain soils such as Cumwhitton). Tines are far larger and thicker than comb teeth so you would expect them to survive if deliberately buried i.e. in a grave. However, antler tines only seem to be found in a single type of deposit – antler waste pits. In all the thousands of early medieval graves, there is not a single example of a perforated antler tine that could be used as a closure.
Middens at craft-working sites (eg the 7th-9th century site at Fishergate, York) contain very large quantities of antler tines. There is no evidence for them being used - they were simply discarded as by-products.
Antler tines should not be used as toggles or other fastenings. Where toggles are needed, they should be made from a small strip of leather rolled up and sewn in place.
Deer and the availability of antler
- Red and roe deer are the only two species of deer native to Britain. Their remains are found on archaeological sites throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. Both the bone and antler were extensively used for craft working.
- Fallow deer were imported during the Roman period and re-introduced by the Normans. While there does seem to have been some surviving population in early medieval Britain, its size is subject to debate. It is likely that fallow deer would have been rare but not wholly unknown.
Further information on the range of animals evidenced from the British Isles in the early medieval period is available in the File:LHE - Datasheet 005 v1 - Availability of Animals.pdf. With thanks to Dave Constantine.