Laws of the Land

Digs & Discoveries July/August 2021

(Left: University of Bristol; Right: Oxford Archaeology)

At least two families in Oxford, England, may have followed a kosher diet more than 900 years ago. Archaeologists have uncovered remnants of two adjoining houses that were owned by Jewish families in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, according to medieval census records. In a privy attached to the houses, researchers uncovered fragments of cookware and thousands of animal bones. A team led by University of Bristol archaeologist Julie Dunne conducted lipid-residue analysis to determine whether the families observed Jewish dietary laws. “During the period these families were living at the site, we see a total absence of pig bones and an abundance of fowl and kosher fish remains,” says Dunne. Chemical traces detected on the sherds, she adds, suggest that the vessels were used to process ruminants, including cows and sheep, but not pork or dairy products. According to Jewish dietary law, it is forbidden to eat pork or shellfish, or to mix meat and dairy products in the same container. By contrast, vessels from an earlier Anglo-Saxon assemblage recovered at the site, and those unearthed at a nearby medieval site, appear to have contained both ruminant and nonruminant animal products. This suggests the families had distinct cooking and eating habits.


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