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In the article by Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Sawards Caerdroia 42 (March 2014)  there is the picture of a visceral drawing on a clay tablet which is older than those we have seen before (see related posts below).

Clay tablet with diagram

Clay tablet from Umma of Old Babylonian times, photo courtesy of the Louvre

The clay tablet with the visceral drawings was found in the old Sumerian city of Umma, the today’s Tell Jokha in Iraq. It dates from the time about 1900 – 1600 B.C. and you can now see it in the Louvre under the number AO 6033.
The photo can be found in the cuneiform digital library initiative of the University of California, Los Angeles, under the CDLI number P 386355.

Unfortunately, the tablet is damaged. Nevertheless, the missing lines can be reconstructed perfectly and then show the following plan:

The visceral drawing on tablet AO 6033

The visceral drawing on tablet AO 6033

The alignment reminds very strongly of the so-called Berlin labyrinth on the clay tablet VAT 744 at the Vorderasiatisches Museum of Berlin which is some hundred years younger.

The visceral drawing on tablet VAT 744

The visceral drawing on tablet VAT 744

Despite the resemblance the lines in the visceral drawing on tablet AO 6033 show a completely different labyrinth.
The path (Ariadne’s thread) inside the tablet ascertained from the boundary lines looks thus:

Ariadne's thread in the visceral drawing on AO 6033

Ariadne’s thread in the visceral drawing on AO 6033

Based on these lines I construct a geometrically exact figure consisting of arc elements. The midpoints of them can be arranged on a single line.

Ariadne's thread geometrically correct

Ariadne’s thread geometrically correct

After that I construct the boundary lines around the same midpoints and will obtain the complete labyrinth:

The labyrinth

The labyrinth

The alignment is completely different from the one of the Berlin labyrinth. In the middle there is a kind of a double spiral. Besides there are two turning points. The two sickle-shaped empty areas are remarkable.

Anyway we see an hitherto unknown walk-through labyrinth. Maybe even the oldest one proved so far? In any case, it is older than the example on the tablet of Pylos.

How should one name it? Referring to the proposals of Andreas maybe: The Babylonian Umma labyrinth.


Who would like to draw or build such a labyrinth as a walkable one? The following drawing offers the necessary information. The measurements are to be understood as units. So “1” can be: 1 cm, 10 cm, 60 cm, 1 metre, 1 yard, 1 foot, 2 feet, a step length, a stick and the like.

The layout drawing

The layout drawing

One best goes forward as follows: Fix a line, divide it into 16 parts, mark the mid points of the circles, then make the arcs with a string, wire, circle, tape or the like.  The radii are a multiple of the unity, so R2 means 2 times the unity etc.

The labyrinth can be drawn with compass and pencil on paper or can be scratched as a walkable labyrinth into the sand, strewn with sawdust or laid with stones or similar. The two accesses can be arranged by wish. It would make it easier to begin with the arcs above the line.

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While dealing with the Babylonian labyrinths in the detailed and excellent article of Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Saward’s Caerdroia 42 (March 214) I also saw the following illustrations of sacrificed sheep’s guts. They are all different and served as patterns for extispicy.
They look similar to labyrinths, because they are depicted as one single uninterrupted line. Nevertheless, they have no center, rather two entrances/exits which mostly lie side by side. One could call them walk-through labyrinths or “prelabyrinthine”.

Clay tablets with diagrams of sheep's guts

Clay tablets with diagrams of sheep’s guts

To our today’s usual Western notion a labyrinth is a figure with one single path free of crossings leading to the centre and back again.

Does a relationship to “our” labyrinth exist in these intestinal loops or can they possibly be transformed into such?
This works, and as an example I choose the well recognizable drawing on the left clay tablet E 3384 (marked with a red cross).

Note from September 2017: Meanwhile I finished a drawing named E 3384 r_8 for the template.

Drawings from the clay tablet E 3384 recto

Drawings from the clay tablet E 3384 recto

Template for a visceral labyrinth

Template for a visceral Labyrinth

In it I determine the path sequence of the side by side lying intestinal loops and number them from the left to the right. The entrance lies in the middle and on the right side I leave the figure.

The layout of the visceral labyrinth

The layout of the visceral labyrinth

The pattern of the Labyrinth thus becomes visible. I read the order in which the single loops will be passed through: 5-6-9-2-3-8-7-4-1-10.

Using this path sequence I construct a closed, more round labyrinth in which the way ends in the centre.

Conversion of the path sequence into a closed round labyrinth

Conversion of the path sequence into a closed round labyrinth

I get a labyrinth with three turning points and nine circuits. Now this can still be reshaped by twisting and shifting the turning points. I can also choose a bigger middle and straighten the figure more centrally to the perpendicular bisectors of the sides.
Then it looks like this:

The visceral labyrinth in Knidos style

The visceral labyrinth in Knidos style

In front of us we have a new, hitherto unknown labyrinth. The path sequence is: 0-5-6-9-2-3-8-7-4-1-10. I walk directly into the internal area of the labyrinth and  I also go round the centre very quickly with 0-5-6-9. Then I walk outwardly and through the whole internal area with -2-3-8-7-4. From here I come to the outermost circuit once again and then with a big jump I arrive at the centre: -1-10. The alignment seems to be very dynamic and with a lot of movement. One should feel that when walking the labyrinth.

Who is the first to build such a labyrinth?

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Are there labyrinths to be found under the Nazca lines?

A lot has been puzzled over these mysterious geoglyphs, of course also as regards their meaning. The supposedly oldest ones were created from 800 BCE on. They most probably served religious purposes.
There are numerous variations, many with geometric shapes, even double spirals.

Nazca Lines

Nazca Lines © rrosas1004

The meander is part of them and with that we already have a similarity to the labyrinth. The double spiral is also an essential element for the Wunderkreis which has been passed on up to the present day . Gundula has found out a logical alignment for the lines in the top right corner of the previous picture. I have brought them into a geometrically correct and compact form.

Nazca Labyrinth

Nazca Labyrinth

There is no real middle in which the paths end, but rather two entrances. We have a walk-through labyrinth in front of us. Other labyrinth qualities are the uninterrupted, winding path with some turns, however, without forks or dead ends. Single elements are rotated and mirrored, depicting a sort of symmetry. A certain resemblance to the Babylonian walk-through labyrinths is recognizable, even if the entrances lie at two different places and are not side by side.

We do not know exactly what these lines have served for. However, nowadays, many archeologists incline to the view that these are processional ways used for ceremonies. Certainly not in the same sense as we do it today in a labyrinth, but for cultic purposes.

Even if one does not recognise this figure as “a real” labyrinth, it is at least prelabyrinthine and appeared in quite an other culture than the hitherto known labyrinths.

Here the layout drawing as a prototype with the dimension for the axis of 1 meter:

Layout drawing

Layout drawing

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

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Some time ago I already posted a walkable Babylonian visceral labyrinth (see related posts below).

Today I will present another one.

Babylonian Snail Shell Labyrinth

Babylonian Snail Shell Labyrinth

I have called it snail shell labyrinth because it reminds me of one. In addition to that I have also extended the entry area on the left a little bit wave-shaped.

It is a new type of labyrinth again: It has an unequivocal way through a labyrinth, not into a labyrinth. Therefore there are two entrances, no center to stay in or to return from.

I have written about the labyrinth and the origin quite detailed (see related posts below). The illustration on the clay tablet VAT 9560_5 of the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin forms the basis of the layout. Hewre we deal with a walkable implementation.

The following drawing shows the main elements.
At first one should fit the labyrinth into the available locality and determine the orientation. To achieve that one defines the points M3 and M5.

The main elements

The main elements

By use of triangular measurements from two points the other salient points are determined. One do not necessarily need to define the beginning and the end of each curve in advance. They lie on the (imaginary) lines between the main points or along the extension about these points.

If one puts on the semicircles in the right part first (in Blue) using M4 as midpoint, one has already created a large part of the arcs and can then add the other pieces.

As to the five curves around M3 one must pay attention that only the most internal two semicircles are continuous, the three external ones only reach up to the line determined by the points M3-M1-M6.

One could also form the entry area around M6 in a different way.


The exact measurements of the entire labyrinth are found in the layout drawing below.

The following layout drawing is a sort of prototype with the dimension of 1 m between  the axes which also corresponds to the distance from line to line. The remaining measurements arise from this definition and the shape of the labyrinth.

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

If e.g., a path width of 60 cm is desired, one takes the factor 0.6. All other measurements of the drawing are calculated with this factor, i.e. the road length as well as the line length, the main dimensions, the radii, the oblique distances of the centres etc.

Layout drawing

Layout drawing

Two examples:

One labyrinth sprayed on the lawn in the garden of Gundula Thormaehlen Friedman in Bad Kreuznach.

One painted with chalk on the plaster of the parking area in front of our flat in Würzburg. The children of the surroundings had a lot of fun and were running it tirelessly.

By the way, one can also walk the labyrinth hand in hand. After the first round the partner starts in the upper entrance. In the meander of the middle one meets and changes the paths.

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

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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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I have already written about the Babylonian visceral divination labyrinths and tried to prove their relationship with the labyrinth. They date to the Middle Babylonian and Neo-Babylonian time (ca. 1500 to 500 BC).

However, there are even older labyrinth representations from Old Babylonian time (ca. 2000  to 1700 BC) which look quite differently than the visceral labyrinths and which can probably be taken for the ancestors of the labyrinth.

The Swedish historian of Babylonian mathematics and cuneiform script expert Jöran Friberg has studied the Babylonian mathematical  tablets of the Norwegian Schøyen Collection in detail and has documented that in 2007. He calls the following figures labyrinths and tries to prove that.

In the journal Caerdroia 42 Richard Myers Shelton has written extensively on the subject of the Babylonian Labyrinths. Most of my information I got from him. Here it is a matter for me of founding in what the relationship with the labyrinth consists.

One must take therefore the following representations as the oldest labyrinths known so far.

Here a rectangular labyrinth labelled MS 3194 in the Schøyen Collection:

The rectangular labyrinth MS 3194

The rectangular labyrinth MS 3194, source: Schøyen Collection

We do not know anything about the purpose of this figure. It could have served quite philosophical or mathematical considerations.

In what does the relationship with the labyrinth exist now?

We must look at it more exactly. Richard Myers Shelton could reconstruct the lines on the clay tablet perfectly and therefore I can present a colored drawing of the entire figure.

The rectangular Babylonian labyrinth

The rectangular Babylonian labyrinth

The thin black lines limit the ways. These are the free space between the lines. There are two open entries to the rectangle. One entrance lies roughly in the middle of the left side, the other one opposite on the right. The way from the left is highlighted in ochre, from the right in green. In the middle they meet and change the direction. The one way is leading in, so to speak, and the other out.

There are no forks or dead ends. The whole, long and winding path must be accomplished. The entire rectangle is crossed.

The layout shows a certain, but not quite successful symmetry. The last laps round the center remind a double spiral. The other circuits are intertwined in the shape of meanders.

We have thus an unambiguous, doubtless and purposeful way through a closed figure, as we know it from a “true” labyrinth.

Then there is still a square labyrinth labelled MS 4515. Here the colored drawing:

The square Babylonian labyrinth

The square Babylonian labyrinth

Maybe it should represent a town? As we know that from other labyrinths. With gates, bastions, walls?


Amongst the Babylonian tablets is another one with geometrical illustrations. Jöran Friberg calls them mazes. They are quite sure not.

One could consider these lines as labyrinthine finger exercises. Some are difficulty to reconstruct. So, Friberg and Shelton come to different results.

There are two rows with four fields in which a rotationally symmetric closed path runs without beginning and end through four sectors. All areas are mostly touched, sometimes there are inaccessible places. One is reminded of the Roman sector labyrinths many centuries later.

The tablet MS 4516

The tablet MS 4516, source: Schøyen Collection

Here the drawings of two fields:
The first field on top left

The first field on top left

The fourth field on bottom left (reconstructed)

The fourth field on bottom left (reconstructed)

Clearly one recognises the meander, the symmetrical arrangement and the alignment of the paths between the black lines.

Much later similar representations on the silver coins of Knossos are found:

Swastika meander

Swastika meander on a coin, 431-350 BC / source: Hermann Kern, Labyrinthe, 1982, fig. 49 (German edition)

The right “ingredients” for a labyrinth, namely meander and spiral were already known in Old Babylonian times. The idea of a confusing, winding, nevertheless unequivocal way in a restricted space with rhythmical movement changes can have originated from there.

We can push back the time for the origin of the labyrinth some hundred years later to the time about 1800 BC. At first it was the idea of a walk through labyrinth. The further development happened in Middle to New-Babylonian times in the intestinal labyrinths with also two entries, yet unambiguous way.

Since 1200 BC we know the Cretan labyrinth with only one entry and the end of the path in the center. We could call this a way in labyrinth whereas the Babylonian labyrinth is a way through labyrinth.

Till this day have remained walk through labyrinths in the type of the  Baltic wheel and the Wunderkreis (wonder circle). We recognise them as real labyrinths, although they also have two entrances and do not end in the middle.

The Kaufbeuren Wunderkreis

The Kaufbeuren Wunderkreis

More information is to find about the Babylonian labyrinths in an excellent article by Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Sawards Caerdroia 42 (March 2014), and in a new article from him in Caerdroia 44 (April 2015) about the Transylvanian Wunderkreis.

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Via Facebook  I have found this modern walk through labyrinth:

Walk-through labyrinth with meanders

Drawing by kind permission of © Sergej Likhovid

The drawing is sketched for a labyrinth by Sergej Likhovid, that was structured in an abandoned swimming pool in Odessa (Ukraine). See more about the project in a news article in the Further Links at the bottom. Besides, it is a sector labyrinth and uses the meander. And with that we get onto the subject of the post:

In the history of the labyrinth the meander plays a big role. The meander can be traced back till the Neolithic Age. So the meander is much older than all up to now known labyrinth figures (on the tablet of Pylos in 1200 B.C.). When was the first combination meander – labyrinth? The connection with the labyrinth can be presumably proved now till the Babylonian time (about 1800 B.C.).

In the 1st part I have already introduced the labyrinth from fig. 5 of the Near East clay tablet VAT 9560 in Weidner’s article. The tablet is dated by him based on the attributed cuneiform inscriptions to the time about 1000 B.C.

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 5 (Ariadne's thread)

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 5 (Ariadne’s thread)

On this representation of the path’s structure (the so called Ariadne’s thread) one can recognize very nicely the meander in the middle.

Here the geometrically correct representation of the limitation lines:

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 5 (the lines)

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 5 (the lines)

In this drawing the basic pattern can be read. It has an amazing resemblance with that for the Indian labyrinth, nevertheless, is a little bit differently constructed.

In Weidner’s script there is still fig. 4 of the tablet VAT 9560. Though the figure is incomplete, however, it shows clearly an access on the top left and the end in the middle:

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

The both lines on the right side can be reconstructed unambiguously, and the completed figure shows a labyrinth:

Drawing of the complete visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

Drawing of the complete visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

Here the graphics in a geometrically correct manner:

Graphics of the visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

Graphics of the visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

The comparison of the different labyrinths from fig. 5 and fig. 4 shows within the triangle in the geometrically correctly drawn representations an identical pattern. And this is identical again with a quite known basic pattern, namely of the Indian labyrinth (also called Chakra Vyuha). Read more about the Indian Labyrinth on Related Posts at the bottom.

The seed pattern for the Indian labyrinth

The seed pattern for the Indian labyrinth

Only the connection of the dots and lines is a little bit differently for the walk through labyrinth after fig. 5. For the Indian labyrinth (and the one of fig. 4) one begins in the triangular seed pattern on top and makes the first curve down to the next line end below on the right side. And then one connects all the further line ends and dots in usual manner as for the classical labyrinth in parallel arcs to the first curve. For the walk through labyrinth after fig. 4 one also begins on top, pulls the first curve, nevertheless, to the second line end. The rest is constructed again as usual.

The Indian labyrinth is still known in other variations. Here an illustration from Hermann Kern’s book:

The Indian labyrinth

The Indian labyrinth, source: Hermann Kern, Labyrinths (2000), fig. 607, p. 287

The Indian labyrinth is very old, but the origin is not so easily to prove. Who has discovered the basic pattern for it, to my knowledge is unknown, may presumably have occurred in newer time.

To my conviction one may consider the Babylonian labyrinths as genuine labyrinths, even if most of them are walk through labyrinths. They follow a different paradigm than our usual Western notion of a single path ending at the center. Nevertheless, we can count them to the real labyrinths, like we do it with the Baltic wheel and the Wunderkreis of Kaufbeuren, as well as with many other contemporary creations.

In the meantime I could find about 50 different walk through and intestinal labyrinths from Babylonian time. Whether a mutual influence under these different cultural spheres existed, is uncertain, and which is now the oldest historically manifested labyrinth, is not yet proved.

However, another example of a divination labyrinth from Mesopotamia from about 1800 B.C. could outstrip the clay tablet of Pylos from 1200 B.C. On the website of Jeff Saward I found a picture of it (more on the Links below). Here a drawing of it:

The Mesopotamian divination labyrinth from 1800 B.C.

The Mesopotamian divination labyrinth from 1800 B.C.

It is certainly not comparable directly with the classical labyrinth, nevertheless, a closer look at it is worthwhile and shows the relationship to the labyrinth figure.

Following graphics with the representation of the lines, the normally hidden path (Ariadne’s thread in Red) in a geometrically correct way:

Graphics of the Mesopotamian divination tablet from 1800 B.C.

Graphics of the Mesopotamian divination tablet from 1800 B.C.

It looks quite differently than we would have expected. However, it has only one entrance and an end in the middle. Though the middle is below, but here ends the way. The path spirals upwards in serpentines and turns down through a meander.

The way is unequivocal, fills the whole space, have no forks and dead ends, must be absolved completely, leads to a goal – and turns back to the outside. Even if the lines would be open in the middle below, the diagnosis “Labyrinth” would be kept up.

… To be continued

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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