The Gloucester Annus Figure

 

This piece known as T22 is kept in Gloucester Museum, and belongs to the oldest backgammon set know to exist (c. 1085 - 1130), and was excavated from Gloucester Castle (Commercial Street, Gloucester)in 1983. It is on display in its own case in the archaeological section of the museum. With fragments of the board, there are a total of 30 pieces made of some form of bone, or horn. The pieces represent months of the year, a variety of Zodiac sings including Virgo, Sagittarius, also a Sphinx, Elephant, Two Birds, Wolf, St Michael, David, A Hanged Man, Gathered, Tumblers, Lovers, Serpent, Tress-puller, Dancer, Juggler, Samson and Lion, Musician with rebec, a Toad, and our figure labelled 'Annus - The Year'. It is claimed some pieces defy interpretation. Quite a few are damaged by years in the soil, and rodent gnawing, like our figure but others such as February are in mint condition.

The Gloucester City Museum web site identifies the possible link of this piece to exhibitionists. They suggest the pose is generally called a ‘caccans’ because of the squatting position, but another name for a figure with sexually explicit characteristics is a Sheela na Gig. It has been suggested that a few other pieces in this table set, the dancer, lovers, and juggler could also be exhibitionist.

Text and photograph by Keith Jones.

Image used by permission of Gloucester City Museum.

A very similar figure to this one is carved on one of the central roundels at Autun in France.
This figure is in a better state of preservation and while being splay legged is not exhibitionist. 

Gloucester museum's webpages written by Malcom J Watkins on the tables set can be seen here 
http://www.gloucester.gov.uk/Content.aspx?urn=3514

The Annus figure can be seen here
http://www.gloucester.gov.uk/Content.aspx?URN=1228

John Harding


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