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Posts Tagged ‘Berlin labyrinth’

I have written quite in detail about the Babylonian labyrinths. For that I refer to the Related Posts below. Now here it should be a summary.

I have taken most information from the detailed and excellent article of Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Sawards Caerdroia 42 (March 2014) to which I would also like to point here once again.

The findings are in the most different collections and museums worldwide. I use the catalogue number to describe the various clay tablets.

The oldest specimens in angular shape dates back to Old Babylonian times about 2000 – 1700 BC and are to find in the Norwegian Schøyen Collection.

The Rectangular Babylonian Labyrinth MS 3194

The Rectangular Babylonian Labyrinth MS 3194

The Square Babylonian Labyrinth MS 4515

The Square Babylonian Labyrinth MS 4515

Then follows the different more round visceral labyrinths from the Middle Babylonian to the Neo-Babylonian times about 1500 – 500 BC. They are to be found in the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin (VAN… and VAT… numbers), in the Louvre (AO 6033), in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden (Leiden labyrinth) or come from Tell Barri in Syria (E 3384).

I have numbered the tablets with more figures from the left on top to the right below and present the well visible ones (21 pieces) in a bigger tracing. Some figures are unrecognisable or destroyed. All together we have 48 illustrations.

Then there are another 6 single specimens. They follow here:

Visceral Labyrinths

Visceral Labyrinths

Here the 21 bigger tracings of the well recognisable specimens:

The Visceral Labyrinth on VAT 984

The Visceral Labyrinth on VAT 984

The Visceral Labyrinths on VAN 9447

The Visceral Labyrinths on VAN 9447

The Visceral Labyrinths on E 3384 recto

The Visceral Labyrinths on E 3384 recto

The Visceral Labyrinths on E 3384 verso

The Visceral Labyrinths on E 3384 verso

So we have a total of 56 Babylonian labyrinths, 29 of which are clearly recognisable.

It is common to all 29 diagrams that they show an unequivocal way which is completely to cover. There are no forks or dead ends like it would be in a real maze.

All 29 specimens have a different layout or ground plan and therefore no common pattern.

Everyone (except VAT 9560_4) has two entrances. On the angular labyrinths they are lying in the middle of the opposite sides. On the remaining, mostly rounded specimens they are situated side by side or are displaced.

The Leiden Labyrinth is simply a double spiral. An other special feature is the visceral labyrinth VAT 9560_4. It has only one entrance and a spiral-shaped centre, just as we have that in the Indian labyrinth. It shows perfectly a labyrinth.

The Mesopotamian divination labyrinth could also have a closed middle (and therefore only one entrance) and the loops run in simple serpentines.

The remaining 24 specimens have all a much more complicated alignment with intertwined bends and loops.

The 27 unreadable specimens are presumably structured alike. And maybe there are still more clay tablets awaiting discovery?

We know nothing about the meaning of the angular specimens. The remaining 27 more rounded specimens are visceral labyrinths.

The visceral labyrinths show the intestines of sacrificial animals as a pattern for diviners, describing how to interprete them for oracular purposes in the extispicy. From there it is also to be understood that they should look very different. This explains her big variety. And also again her resemblance. They represent rather an own style than an own type.

The Babylonian labyrinths come from an own time period, from another cultural sphere and follow a different paradigm than the usual Western notion of the labyrinth. They are above all walk-through labyrinths. However, in our tradition we also know walk-through labyrinths, especially the Wunderkreis.

A Wunderkreis in Babylonian style

A Wunderkreis in Babylonian style: The logo for the gathering of the Labyrinth Society TLS in 2017), design and © Lisa Moriarty

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In the meantime, I could put on some walkable visceral labyrinths. As a walk through labyrinth without central middle it provides quite new experiences.

It is a new type of labyrinth: An unequivocal way through a labyrinth, not into a labyrinth.

 

Babylonian intestinal labyrinth

Babylonian intestinal labyrinth

As a name came to my mind also: Tapeworm labyrinth or intestinal labyrinth.

Because it is, however, only the geometrically exact transformation of the figure on the clay tablet VAT 744 of the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin, one could also maintain the name chosen by Ernst Friedrich Weidner in 1917 “Berlin Labyrinth”.

Quite unexpectedly has turned out that this special type is a “pair labyrinth”. Since one can go from the beginning side by side on different paths and meets only at one single place with a change of course.

While marking out the labyrinth I have also found out how one should proceed while putting on the labyrinth. The following drawings will explain this clearer.

At first the approximate middle is fixed in point M4 and following the main axis up to the point M5 (9.00 m).

The further salient points are fixed with triangulation measurement from 2 points.

This is here only the point B. With the distance M4-B (8.00 m) and the distance M5-B (5.67 m) point B is marked out.

The exact measurements for a prototype with 1 m dimension between axes are found in the layout drawing below.

Point A lies in the lengthening of the line from point B through M4 by 6.00 m.

Then one fixes the midpoints M1, M3 and M2 along this line. Maybe also the beginning or end points of the arcs with a distance of 1 m.

To this see Fig. 1.Fig. 1 and 2
Now it is best, to pull all eight semicircles in the right upper part.

The first four semicircles 1 – 4 have M1 as midpoint and are drawn with the radii 1 m, 2 m, 3 m, 4m.

The different arcs, midpoints and numbers are shown colourfully differently.

To this see Fig. 2.
Fig. 3 and 4

Around M2 there is only one semicircle (radius 1 m). This is at the same time the “secret” middle with the sickle-shaped left blank figure.

Around M3 there are three semicircles (with the radii 5 m, 6 m, 7 m). Here don’t let you confuse by the design of the curves. Since they begin or end together with other curves. Thus the sickle-shaped “fontanel” is also generated.

To this see Fig. 3.

Then around M4 one pulls six semicircles 1 – 6 (beginning with radius 1 m, further to radius 6 m) in the left lower part up to the sloping line.

The both curves 7 and 8 with the radii 7 m and 8 m are only drawn up to the vertical between M4 and M5.

To this see Fig. 4.
Fig. 5 and 6

Around M5 are the three quarter circles 1 – 3 to pull (radius 1 m to radius 3 m) for the input area.

To this see Fig. 5.

All lines (the boundary lines) of the labyrinth are to be seen in Fig. 6. The actual way through the labyrinth is the free area between these lines.


The following layout drawing is a sort of prototype with the dimension between axes of 1 m for the distance from line to line. This corresponds to a path width of 1 m. The remaining measurements arise from this definition and the design of the labyrinth.

The construction is scaleable. This means, all the other desired path widths can be derived from it.

The following photos show the labyrinth with a path width of 50 cm. All measurements were multiplied by the factor 0.5 to build them.

If e.g., a path width of 60 cm is wished, one takes the factor 0.6. All other measurements of the drawing are to be calculated with this factor, so also the path length, the line length, the main dimensions, the radii, the sloping distances of the midpoints etc.

Layout drawing

Layout drawing

Two examples for a path width of 50 cm:

The worldwide first labyrinth of this kind on grass in the garden of the co-founder of the TLS Gundula Thormaehlen Friedman in Bad Kreuznach (Germany).

The second one on the pavement of the parking place in front of our home in Würzburg (Germany).

Sprayed on grass

Sprayed on grass

Painted with chalk on pavement

Painted with chalk on pavement

Walking two by two: The test by our grandson and his girlfriend from the neighborhood.

Here the layout drawing as a PDF file to watch/print/copy/save (for non commercial uses only) …

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This fading artwork of Denny Dyke on the beach of Bandon, Oregon shows double spirals, knots and a walk through labyrinth with a meander in the middle.
Is this something new or are there some historical ancestors?

Dream-Field from Denny Dyke on the beach of Bandon, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Amber Shelley-Harris

Dream-Field from Denny Dyke on the beach of Bandon, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Amber Shelley-Harris

One of the first pictures in Hermann Kern’s book “Labyrinths” shows the so-called . It is on a clay tablet from presumably Middle- to Neo-Babylonian time (from 1100 to 600 B.C.) in the Near East Museum of Berlin (Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin) under the number VAT 744. It shows the intestines of a sacrificial animal with the drawing as a pattern for the ancient practice of extispicy.
For Hermann Kern this is not a labyrinth, but a double spiral with changing direction in the middle. Also spirals, meanders and knots are no labyrinths. These are not in the strict sense, but they are elements in labyrinths.

The Berlin Labyrinth

The Berlin Labyrinth

The Near East archeologist and Assyriologist Ernst Friedrich Weidner has 1917 written about that in an article under the title “Zur babylonischen Eingeweideschau, zugleich ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Labyrinths” (translated: “About the Babylonian extispicy; at same time a contribution to the history of the labyrinth”) in the “Orientalistische Studien” (see link below, on the pages 191-198).

Diagram tablet of intestines VAT 984

Diagram tablet of intestines VAT 984

He sees in these intestinal drawings an extraordinary close relationship to the labyrinth drawings of the Aegean culture (as on the jug of Tragliatella) and the Troy Towns of Northern Europe.

The jug of Tragliatella

The jug of Tragliatella

But he didn’t prove this relationship. However, thus is not done so easily. Therefore a closer look to the tablets in Weidner’s writ is worthwhile. Only an analysis of the alignment of the paths shows the resemblance.

First the double spiral:

A double spiral

A double spiral

There are two entrances / exits. Both paths (colourfully marked) meet in the center where the direction of the movement changes. The alignment corresponds to a meander.

The alignment of the >Berlin Labyrinth<:

The path in the Berlin Labyrinth

The path in the Berlin Labyrinth

Entrance and exit are placed side by side. There are three turning points where the path changes direction. But it is not a double spiral, because there would the direction change only once.

Following a drawing with the original, Ariadne’s thread and the walls in geometrical correct shape:

Drawing of the Berlin Labyrinth

Drawing of the Berlin Labyrinth

By the way, the labyrinth can be quite simply drawn, even if the description sounds complex. It refers to the right lower drawing.

  • I draw two straight inclined lines, meeting in a center point (in blue, dashed)
  • Inside the left half  I draw around this center point in steady distances eight semicircles (in black), the both outside only partially
  • Now the right side:
  • I connect the 3rd and 5th curve end (counted from above on the left) with the 4th curve end as a center with a semicircle (in cyan)
  • I connect the 1st and 3rd curve end (counted from the middle) with the 2nd curve end as a center with a semicircle (in green)
  • I continue with three other semicircles (in green) in parallel distance
  • The last three semicircles (in brown) have as center the first curve end below the intersection of the two blue auxiliary lines
  • Three semicircles have in common an already “occupied” curve end point: the 3rd and 5th from the left on top, the 3rd from the right below
  • Eight arcs on the left side of a common line and seven arcs on the right side of it generate the “Berlin Labyrinth”
  • The “fontanel” as an empty space is relatively big

The relationship to a classical labyrinth is yet not so good to recognize. But you may still guess that it could be a labyrinth.

Another figure from Weidner’s script fits better:

The Near East clay tablet VAT 9560

The Near East clay tablet VAT 9560

There are two entrances / exits and four turning points.

In the graphic we look at every way separately:

Graphics of the Near-East clay tablet VAT 9560

Graphics of the Near-East clay tablet VAT 9560

Though the alignment of the turning path is spiral-shaped, nevertheless, it is no double spiral. The circuits swing about two turning points. One time directly and another time embedded around the turning point of the other way. Two circuits of a path thereby also run side by side. In the middle the paths meet and are connected through a meander with each other. One path is leading in and one out.
Every path for itself looks like a labyrinth. Hence, we have two labyrinths intertwined together who are connected through a meander. The paths are unequivocal and purposeful, change commuting the direction and have no branchings or dead ends. They fill out the whole interior and must be followed entirely. All that what Hermann Kern demands for a labyrinth.

Following the path in a Babylonian visceral labyrinth in a geometrically correct shape:

Ariadne's thread in a Babylonian visceral labyrinth

Ariadne’s thread in a Babylonian visceral labyrinth

Following the “walls” in a geometrically correct drawing:

The Babylonian visceral labyrinth

The Babylonian visceral labyrinth

This labyrinth has even a seed pattern. Who finds it? (More about that in a later posting).

There is no end of the path in a clearly defined center as we now (in the Western world) are accustomed. It is a path not leading to a center, but through it. It shows a quite different meaning of the labyrinth. It comes from a quite different culture and served other purposes. It matches rather the motto: The way is the aim.
Even if we do not recognize that as a “full-value” labyrinth, one must see it as a precursor of the “true” labyrinth.
We have two paths in the Baltic Wheel. The Wunderkreis of Kaufbeuren has even a branching and a meander in the middle. We accept, in the meantime, also other creations as walk-through or processional labyrinths.

However, I have found in Weidner’s script something else very interesting: A visceral labyrinth with only one way ending in a center. It can be drawn with a already known seed pattern. More about that in a later posting.

… To be continued

Further Links

More information about the Babylonian clay tablets can be found in an excellent article from Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Sawards Caerdroia 42 (March 2014).

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