Paleolithic period (from 20,000 BC)

The exact origin of the seven-circuit labyrinth is unknown. However, it is speculated that it was developed from meandering shapes that the prehistoric people carved onto the rock walls.

“Meander patterns dating back to 20,000 BC may have form the basis for the labyrinth”

 

“Development from meandering patterns and concentric circles to the labyrinth design”

Tomba del Labirinto

Seven-ring labyrinth rock carving found inside a Neolithic tomb.

“Possibly the world’s oldest surviving labyrinth”

 

Egyptian Seals

“Egyptian seals of the Eighth Dynasty showing labyrinthine patterns”

 

Syria ceramic

Labyrinth image on a pottery fragment from Syria

 "Earliest dateable labyrinth"

 

Pylos tablet

An inscribed clay tablet found at Pylos, Pelepoponnesos, Greece with a square seven-ring labyrinth

Earliest labyrinth coins

Cretan coins

Various cretan coins bore the Classical seven-ring labyrinth design, both in square and circular forms. They could have been the means by which the labyrinth design spread to other parts of the world.

 

Earliest Roman mosaic labyrinth

Roman mosaic labyrinth

From the first century BC, Romans had been fascinated with the “Cretan maze”. Labyrinths in mosaic patterns were a source of inspiration and aesthetic appreciation. Usually portrays the legend of Theseus slaying the minotaur.

 “Small labyrinth mosaic from Cyprus, first century”

 

“Roman mosaic maze with bastions found from a villa on the Via Candolini near Cremona, Italy”

 

Graffito in Pompeii

 “Cretan labyrinth traced onto the pillar in the House of Lucretius before city was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius. Around it are the cryptic words ‘Labyrinthus, hic habitat Minotaurus’”

 

Earliest dateable labyrinth in the British Isles

The Hollywood Stone

The oldest, dateable labyrinth in the British Isles, it was found buried directly beside a pilgrim’s track. Probably a waymark or a symbol of tortuous physical and spiritual journey ahead.

 

Earliest dateable labyrinth in Scandinavia

Rosaring

Seven-ringed, stone-lined path labyrinth found in Sweden.

Earliest surviving medieval Christian labyrinth

Chatres Cathedral in France

Also known as Chemin de Jerusalem, the labyrinth design within the pavement of the nave of Chatres Cathedral is the earliest surviving example of the medieval Christian design. It is unique because of its central “rose” and the 112 cusps around the outside. Its design is of an 11-circuit labyrinth (instead of the pagan seven-ring cretan one) broken up by a cross laid over the entire design.

 

 

Man in the Maze

Arizonan labyrinths are always portrayed with the entrance at the top (compared to most Classical labyrinths with the entrance at the bottom). Furthermore, design is always shown with a male figure in it, derived from the myth “The House of Iitoi”. This is in contrast with fifteenth-century Swedish mazes with the entrance at the bottom and the figure of a virgin at the centre of the labyrinth.

"Basket work of 'The Man in the Maze'"

 

British’s oldest surviving hedge maze

Hampton Court Maze

It is representative of the beginning of multicursal puzzle mazes. Junctions lead off to dead ends to both left and right, and the main path is not made clear in any way. Can be solved using the “hand-on-wall” method. Unlike previous labyrinths which are used mainly for spiritual or aesthetic pleasure, puzzle mazes are meant to be mentally challenging and fun. The Hampton Court Maze is a simply-connected puzzle maze. The first multicursal maze that is multiply-connected include Chevening in Kent, built in 1820s.

"Aerial view of the Hampton Court Maze"

"The Hampton Court Maze is simply-connected"

"The Chevening maze in Kent is the first multiply-connected puzzle maze"

 

Modern Mazes

Mainly for decorative as well as entertainment purposes, modern mazes vary greatly in style of presentation, the scale of the maze and materials used. Now, mazes can come in all shapes and sizes and are mostly multicursal. Some extraordinary examples include mirror mazes, wooden mazes, water mazes, stained glass window mazes and garden hedge mazes.

“The Bristol Water Maze is built in Victoria Park, England. Water wells up at the centre and flows along every part of its eleven rings. A twig or leaf is then slowly floated along the entire length.”

 

“The Mirror Maze at Lucerne in Switzerland uses multiple reflections to increase puzzlement”

 

“A complex wooden maze in Japan. It is contrasted with the European garden hedge mazes”

 

“The 'Imprint' is a hedge maze design in the shape of a foot in Gloucestershire. Built in1975, it is based on the Minotaur design and portrays the footprint of a Colossus.”