The radiocarbon dating of two London shofarot

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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 .

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

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