Finding Oxford’s medieval Jewry using organic residue analysis, faunal records and historical documents

J Dunne*, E Biddulph, P Manix, T Gillard, H Whelton, S Teague, C Champness, L G Broderick, R Nicholson, P Blinkhorn, E Craig-Atkins, B Jervis, R Madgwick, T Hodos, L J E Cramp, R P Evershed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Food is often one of the most distinctive expressions of social, religious, cultural or ethnic groups. However, the archaeological identification of specific religious dietary practices, including the Jewish tradition of keeping kosher, associated with ritual food practices and taboos, is very rare. This is arguably one of the oldest known diets across the world and, for an observant Jew, maintaining dietary laws (known as Kashruth) is a fundamental part of everyday life. Recent excavations in the early medieval Oxford Jewish quarter yielded a remarkable assemblage of animal bones, marked by a complete absence of pig specimens and a dominance of kosher (permitted) birds, domestic fowl and goose. To our knowledge, this is the first identification of a Jewish dietary signature in British zooarchaeology, which contrasted markedly with the previous Saxon phase where pig bones were present in quantity and bird bones were barely seen. Lipid residue analysis of pottery from St Aldates showed that vessels from the possible Jewish houses were solely used to process ruminant carcass products, with an avoidance of pig product processing, correlating well with the faunal data. In contrast, lipid analysis of pottery from comparative assemblages from the previous Saxon phase at the site and a contemporaneous site in the city, The Queen’s College, shows that the majority of these vessels appear to have been used to process mixtures of both ruminant and non-ruminant (pig) products. Here, the combination of organic residue analysis, site excavation and animal and fish bone evidence, was consistent with the presence of Jewish houses in eleventh and twelfth century St Aldates, Oxford, hitherto only suspected through documentary information. This is the first identification of specific religious dietary practices using lipid residue analysis, verifying that, at least 800 years ago, medieval Jewish Oxford communities practised dietary laws known as Kashruth.
Original languageEnglish
Article number48 (2021)
Number of pages20
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2021


  • Organic residues
  • isotopes
  • medieval
  • Jewish, Oxford
  • faunal assemblage


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