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The radiocarbon dating of two London shofarot

Tamara Chase, Jennifer Marin, Ken Marks, Jeremy Schonfield and Bruce Watson

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 42, 2009 The radiocarbon dating of two London shofarot TAMARA CHASE, JENNIFER MARIN, KEN MARKS, JEREMY SCHONFIELD AND BRUCE WATSON The shofar (plural shofarot) is a musical instrument made from an animal's horn, often a ram. It is an ancient Jewish ritual instrument, which is mentioned sixty-nine times in the Bible, first in the book of Exodus (19:16) at the Theophany on Sinai. Shofarot were used during the circuits of Jericho, after which the walls collapsed (Joshua 6).1 In the synagogue ritual the shofar is blown briefly after morning services during the month of Elul as a preliminary to its most significant use, on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, when a complex sequence of a hundred calls is performed.2 It is also an important component of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when a single shofar blast at nightfall signals the end of the fast day. Two ram's-horn shofarot were discovered in London in the mid-nine? teenth century, when it was claimed that both were of medieval date, pre? dating the expulsion of the Jewish community in 1290. But in the absence of any associated artefacts or a secure context these claims could not be substantiated. In January 2007 it was decided to radiocarbon the London shofarot at the University of Oxford Research Laboratory for Archaeology and History of Art (Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit), to allow them to be placed in secure cultural context. Both shofarot are of a similar design, manufactured from curved ram's horns. The tip of each horn was heated and severed to make a mouthpiece and the basal edge carved into a decorative design. Both shofarot have been stained a darker colour by absorbing minerals during burial. 1 A. Lewis, 'Shofar', Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem 1971) 14:1442-47. 2 According to rabbinic tradition, Moses spent the month of Elul on Mount Sinai preparing the second set of tablets after the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32; 34:27-28). It remains a time of repentance in preparation for the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur . 19</page><page sequence="2">Chase, Marin, Marks, Schonfield and Watson The Vauxhall shofar This shofar was recovered apparently during dredging of the River Thames at Vauxhall in 1850 along with another artefact, described as a 'Trumpet of Ox Horn of a grayish-black hue, about 14" in length ... 2" diameter at the larger end'. The latter, now lost, appears to have been another shofar? The surviving Vauxhall shofar was acquired by Henry Syer Cuming (1817-1902) a collector of antiquities and ephemera. In 1902 the Cuming Collection was bequeathed to what is now the London Borough of Southwark, and opened as the Cuming Museum in 1906.4 The Vauxhall shofar has a polished surface and a with a deep crack running along the upper portion of the horn near the mouthpiece. The basal edge of the horn has a serrated decoration. Plate 1 The Vauxhall shofar, length 350mm. Copyright Cuming Museum. The analysis of the Vauxhall shofar shows that it post-dates the Readmission of the Jewish community (1656) to England.5 Since this date there has been a large Jewish community in London and there are a number of other shofarot in the capital dating from this period. It is 95.4% certain that the Vauxhall shofar dates from the period 1680-1939. Within this date range there is 63.3% probability that it dates from 1800-1939.6 It is proba? ble that as the Vauxhall shofar was found in 1850, it had been discarded during the eighteenth century. 3 The surviving example was described by Henry Syer Cuming as a 'Lotus-shaped Trumpet formed of a Ram's Horn, pronounced upon high Hebrew authority to be a shophar employed in Religious Services, and dating from before the Explusion of the jews from England in the year 1290' (Original label). The Vauxhall shofar is in the Cuming Museum, 151 Walworth Road, Southwark, SE171RY (Acc. Co 1156), w . 4 S. Humphrey, An Introduction to the Cuming Family and the Cuming Museum (London Borough of South wark 2002). 5 OxA-18381, formerly C01138, now C0I156, di3C=-25.o8; 121 ? 27 BP, 25/4/08. 20</page><page sequence="3">The radiocarbon dating of two London shofarot Why were two shofarot discarded in the Thames at Vauxhall? The correct way to dispose of ritual objects that have become unusable is to bury them in a cemetery. However, the presence of a split along the base of the instrument would have made it unusable for ritual purposes, and if this flaw developed during its manufacture, there would have been no point in keeping it. If this instrument, and the other missing example, were never completed or used, they may not have been considered shofarot, allowing them to be disposed of in a different manner from ritual objects. One can speculate that throwing them into the river was felt to be a more appropri? ate or respectful way of disposing of them than throwing them out with the household rubbish. It is also possible that the Vauxhall shofar sustained some damage during its recovery from the Thames. The Leadenhall shofar This shofar was recovered from Leadenhall Street in the City of London during 1855.7 Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it was found presumably during the redevelopment of a property (address unknown) along this street. The basal edge of the Leadenhall shofar has a decorative design consisting of a series of alternating scallops and rectangles. It was displayed in the Pre-Expulsion section of the 1887 Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, as object No. 2, since it was then believed to be a medieval artefact.8 The Leadenhall shofar has been part of the collection at the Jewish Museum almost from the museum's inception. The radiocarbon date for the Leadenhall shofar reveals that it has a 95.4% probability of dating from 1680-1939, and that within this date range there is 63.5% probability that it dates from 1801-1939.9 It therefore seems certain that both the London shofarot are of very similar date and were probably both discarded during the eighteenth century. Quite apart from the convincing evidence of carbon dating, the Leadenhall shofar was worked in a flattened form with a serrated edge in exactly the same way as other eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Ashkenazi shofarot in the Jewish Museum collection. Its provenance in Leadenhall Street was from an area of Jewish settlement in the seventeenth-to-nineteenth-century period. From 1761 until 1838 the Bricklayers' Hall, Leadenhall Street, was used as a synagogue, so the shofar may have some connection with this 6 Dates in calibrated years CE. 7 The Leadenhall shofar is in the Jewish Museum: London's Museum of Jewish Life, 129-131 Albert Street, Camden Town, NW 1 7NB (Acc. JM 193), www.jewishmuseum.org.uk . 8 'London shofar', Jewish Encylopedia (New York 1901) 11:303, no. 10. 9 OXA-18382JM i93,di3C=-23.88; 121 ? 26 BP, 29/4/08. 21</page><page sequence="4">Chase, Marin, Marks, Schonfield and Watson Plate 2 The Leadenhall shofar, length c. 280mm. Copyright Jewish Museum. building and was perhaps even used here.10 Archaeological work nearby at 12-14 Mitre Street in 1984 revealed a brick-lined cesspit. The backfill of this cesspit contained a large assemblage of early-eighteenth-century domestic ceramics, including a plate with a Herbrew inscription halav, 'milk', confirming it was part of set of tableware intended for the separate serving of meat and dairy products.11 Acknowledgements The radiocarbon dating of the Vauxhall shofar was funded by the Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee; and the dating of the Leadenhall shofar was funded by Ken Marks. Thanks to Dr Fiona Brock of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit for her assistance with the sampling and dating of the shofarot. 10 E. Jamilly, The Georgian Synagogue (London 1999) 11. The hall was leased to the Elders of the New Synagogue until 1883, soon after which the premises were redeveloped. As the shofar had been found some thirty years earlier, it seems very unlikely to have been discovered on the site of this synagogue, which utilized the existing livery hall. 11 J. Pearce, 'A rare delftware Hebrew plate and associated assemblage from an excavation in Mitre Street, City of London', Post-Medieval Archaeology 32 (1998) 95-112. 22</page></plain_text>