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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

380) The Mystical Ancient Egyptian Labyrinth depicted on $10 Silver Coins issued by the Cook Islands in 2016 under its "Milestones of Mankind Series"::

380) The Mystical Ancient Egyptian Labyrinth depicted on $10 Silver Coins issued by the Cook Islands in 2016 under its "Milestones of Mankind Series":

The Egyptian Labyrinth – an enigma which has endured over the centuries lost in the sands of time:

The Egyptian Labyrinth is one of the most fascinating projects which were undertaken in Ancient Egypt. It was a vast, grandiose underground complex believed to have been built in the 19th Century BC.

 While, it is believed to have been a Temple of Amenemhet, where daily offerings for the spirit of the Pharaoh were made, the Labyrinth may have also served different purposes, it could have also served as a meeting place for Egyptian political leaders and also as an administrative centre.

 It is unlikely that such a massive complex of 3,000 rooms was only built as a tomb for twelve great Pharaohs as Greek historians Herodotus and Strabo have presumed. The reason for making the courts could be that all the “nomes” (Administrative divisions) would gather there according to rank with their own priests and priestesses, for the purpose of sacrifices, divine offering and judgement and pronouncements on important matters.

The underground chambers, however, are believed to hold, inter alia, the tombs of 12 Kings and their sepulchres, sacred crocodile sculptures and valuable accessories kept in the massive rooms for the King’s use in the Afterlife.

The Labyrinth had inter-connected buildings, courtyards, passageways, shrines et al and was distinguished by its relatively confusing layout and multitudinous winding paths. It was designed to confuse unscrupulous elements like tomb raiders and the pyramid linked to the Labyrinth comprised of an extremely complicated maze.

Historical records of the Egyptian Labyrinth:

One of the few recorded eye-witnesses, the 5th Century Greek historian Herodotus wrote in great detail about the Labyrinth mentioning that the Labyrinth even “surpasses the pyramids” in its grandeur.

Herodotus is believed to have mentioned, inter alia (translated from Greek), that: “The 12 Kings resolved to join together and leave a memorial of themselves and caused a Labyrinth to be made, situated a little above the lake of Moiris and opposite to the City of Crocodiles.”

 “This I have actually seen, a work beyond words. For if anyone put together the buildings of the Greeks and display their labours, they would seem less in both effort and expense to this Labyrinth …. Even the pyramids are beyond words and each was equal to many and mighty works of the Greeks. Yet the Labyrinth surpasses even the pyramids”.

He further described the Labyrinth as a colossal temple said to contain 3,000 rooms full of hieroglyphs and paintings. It was named “Labyrinth” by the Greeks after the complex maze of corridors designed by Daedalus (the Smith of the Gods) for King Minos of Crete, where the legendary Minotaur was kept.

 Apart from Herodotus, several other renowned historians have described the Labyrinth of Ancient Egypt among them – Manetho Aegyptiaca (3rd Century BC), Diodorus Siculus (I Century BC), Strabo (64 BC – 19AD), and Pomponius Mela (43 AD), out of which the first two mentioned having seen the Labyrinth with their own eyes.

The first Century BC Greek philosopher Strabo described the Complex as “a great palace comprising many palaces”, marvelling at the enormity of the stone slabs used for the roof and walls. He further mentioned that “Before the entrances there lay what might be called hidden chambers which are long and many in number and have paths running through one another which twist and turn, so that no one can enter or leave any court without a guide”.

Similarly, the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1st Century BC) has observed: “When one had entered the sacred enclosure, one found a temple surrounded by columns, 40 to each side, and this building had a roof made of a single stone, carved with panels and richly adorned with excellent paintings. It contained memorials of the homeland of each of the Kings, as well as, of the temples and sacrifices carried out in it, all skilfully worked in paintings of great beauty”.

The Roman geographer Pomponius Mela (1st century AD) has described that the temples had “innumerable paths” which “cause great perplexity both because of their continual winding and because of their porticoes which often reverse their direction”.

The Roman Army Commander and philosopher, Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD), described the Labyrinth as a “bewildering maze of paths” adding that, not only did individuals who entered the temple had to navigate through a confusing array of ramps, porticoes, rooms and stairs, but they were also confronted with a “fearful noise of thunder” and had to pass through the chambers in darkness.

The high degree of consistency among different descriptions of the Labyrinth written over six centuries between the 5th Century BC and the 1st Century AD indicates that the Labyrinth was indeed a marvel. For example, they describe a roof made out of a single stone slab and are awe-struck by its immense beauty.

The historic location of the Labyrinth as described by the ancient chroniclers was believed to be at Hawara in Egypt, which is situated about 90 km South of Cairo at the entrance of the Faiyum Oasis. The Egyptian name “Hw.t-wr.t” (meaning the “Great Temple”) refers to the Labyrinth.

Based on the descriptions recorded by Herodotus and the other ancient historians, Athanasius Kircher, a 17th Century German Jesuit scholar and polymath made the first pictorial reconstruction of the Labyrinth. At the centre of the drawing is a maze, which is surrounded by twelve courts as described by Herodotus.

The diagram of the Egyptian Labyrinth made by the 17th Century German scholar Athanasius Kircher

Expeditions to locate the Egyptian Labyrinth:

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Hawara was studied by Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous French Expedition in Egypt (1799-1801), which described the Hawara pyramid, and the Pharaonic Temple South of it. The remains in the North and the West were wrongly identified as the Labyrinth by Jomrad Caristie who wrongly believed that he had discovered the ruins of the Labyrinth.

The first excavations at the site were made by Karl R.Lepsius in 1843. He was commissioned by King Frederich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to lead an expedition to explore and record the remains of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

In Hawara, Lepsius, carried out considerable excavations in the cemetery to the north and on the northern and south-eastern sides of the pyramid and in the area of the labyrinth and claimed to have established the actual site of the labyrinth. Lepsius thought that the structures excavated by his team were parts of the temple of King Amenemhat III, the last great King of the 12th Dynasty (about 1855-1808 BC), but later research showed that they belonged to Roman tombs.

In 1882, an Italian Luigi Vassalli excavated in the area near the pyramid of Hawara, after having surveyed the site. He also excavated across the Bahr Wahbi, in the village east and south of the labyrinth and in the necropolis to the north of the pyramid. Vassalli searched in vain for the pyramid's entrance.

The pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology, William Matthew Flinders Petrie undertook the first large-scale excavations at Hawara in 1888-1889 and then again in 1910-1911.

The main objective of Petrie’s archaeological work at Hawara was the study of the Middle Kingdom pyramid. He was also interested in the labyrinth of the literary sources. Moreover he extended his activity area towards the area north of the pyramid where he discovered a huge cemetery. The most famous finds revealed by Petrie at the Hawara necropolis are the gilded masks and mummy portraits, which he found in the late-Ptolemaic and Roman tombs, e.g. the wooden panel of Hermione, the schoolteacher, being among the very few surviving examples of painted portraits from Classical Antiquity, the “Faiyum Portraits”.

In 1888 he first focused on the pyramid and the labyrinth. He divided the necropolis north of the pyramid in chronological zones ranging from the Middle Kingdom to Byzantine times. Here he found the first Roman mummy portraits and masks.

 In 1889, he identified the pyramid as that of the 12th dynasty Pharaoh Amenemhat III and his daughter Neferuptah.

The actual site of the Egyptian labyrinth was most important find, finally identified by Professor Flinders Petrie in 1888. Sufficient number of the original foundations remained to enable the size and orientation of the building to be roughly determined and large enough to hold the great temples of Karnak and Luxor. He found that the brick chambers which Lepsius took to be part of the labyrinth, were only remains of the Roman town built by its supposed destroyers.

 He concluded that the labyrinth itself being so thoroughly demolished as a stone quarry during the Ptolemaic period and that, that only the great bed of fragments remained on top of an artificial stone foundation.

Interestingly, Petrie drew up plans for a tentative restoration based upon the descriptions of Herodotus and Strabo, as these tallied with the remains discovered by him. He believed that the shrines which he found had formed part of a series of nine shrines, ranged along the foot of the pyramid, each attached to a columned court, the whole series of courts opening opposite a series of twenty-seven columns arranged down the length of a great hall running east and west; on the other side of this hall would be another series of columned courts, six in number and larger than the others, separated by another long hall from a further series of six courts.

His finding at Hawara included scattered bits of foundations, a great well, two door jambs, one to the north and one to the south, two granite shrines and part of another, several fragments of statues and a large granite seated figure of the king, who is recognised to have been the builder of the labyrinth viz. Amenemhet (or Amenemhat) III of the XIIth Dynasty (also known as “Lampares”).

In 1911, Petrie returned to Hawara to excavate in the labyrinth and to find more of the so-called Faiyum portraits on the Roman Period mummies and mummy portraits.

The last survey before the Mataha-expedition of the site was undertaken in 2000 by a Belgian mission, in March 2000, when the Catholic University of Leuven together with an Egyptian team, mapped the architectural remains visible on the surface. The Belgian-Egyptian expedition in 2000 had reported to have found the ancient Labyrinth.

The Mataha (meaning the “Labyrinth" in Arabic) Expedition, Hawara – 2008:

The Mataha Expedition (Mataha means Labyrinth in Arabic) researched the lost Labyrinth of Egypt at Hawara. This Expedition brought the highest level of technology to unlock the secrets of the Ancient Labyrinth, believed to contain over 3000 rooms full of hieroglyphs and paintings which had hitherto remained lost for 2 millenia under the sands of Egypt.

The mission of the Mataha Expedition was, besides preservation of the ancient ruins/structures to authenticate Petrie’s discovery that the enormous artificial stone plateau he had discovered at Hawara measuring 304 metres x 244 metres was the foundation of the Labyrinth and the conclusion that the building itself was completely demolished as a stone quarry during the Ptolemaic period.

One major challenge that lay before the Expedition was that the whole area has become seriously affected by corrosive salty groundwater. Destroying or breaking the stone plateau would result in environmental degradation, not to mention the possibility of reducing to rubble whatever lay underneath the stone.

Accordingly, the Expedition used their advanced scientific technology to map and record for the first time what was under the stone plateau described by Petrie, their purpose being to better understand the ancient history of Egypt and mankind and to solve the enigma of the Labyrinth once and for all, which many scholars believe that the Labyrinth contains all the knowledge of ancient Egypt.

The results showed a regular pattern existing beneath the slab, of what appeared to be void spaces or spaces filled with water rather than sand as a major canal runs through the area, interspersed with narrow stone sections suggesting rooms and walls beneath the slab, strongly suggesting that the enormous singular  edifice was actually the roof of the fabled Labyrinth.

 While some experts believe that the Labyrinth has survived to the present day, with the Egyptian Government keeping its whereabouts and its discovery during the various Expeditions, a secret, to prevent unauthorised incursions/excavations, still others believe that the Labyrinth like many ancient wonders fell into ruin and was completely destroyed during the Roman conquest.

Be that as it may, the enigma of this grand temple complex and the mighty Egyptian Labyrinth has endured to the present day..

The $10 Coin issued by the Cook islands:

This coin issued under the “Milestones of Mankind” Series has several highlights.

 The coin itself could be described as a “Milestone” of modern Numismatics itself and it portrays the Egyptian Labyrinth as described by the Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), and exhibits a level of unique features in itself.

The coin celebrates one of the Ancient World’s most intriguing sites – the “Egyptian Labyrinth”.

On the Reverse of the $10 coin is depicted the Egyptian Labyrinth, with many tunnels full of mysteries as described by the Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680).

On the Obverse of the $ 10 coin is seen the previous portrait of Queen Elizabeth II designed by Ian Rank-Broadley (remember that the present day portraits of the Queen appearing on Great British coins has been designed by Jody Clark), with his initials “IRB” below the Queen’s neck. Her name “ELIZABETH II” appears on the left periphery together with the name of the issuing nation “COOK ISLANDS”. The denomination/Nominal value of the coin is at the bottom “10 DOLLARS”.

In the centre is a functional micro-Labyrinth which brings to mind the arcane world of Ancient Egypt along with many Egyptian symbols.

The specifications of this coin are:

Issuing Country: Cook Islands; Year of Minting: 2016, Face Value: 10 Dollars; Metallic Composition: Silver (.999); Weight: 50 gms; Size: 50.0 mm; Quality: Proof; Mintage: 999 pieces; Minted by: B.H.Mayer’s kunstprageanstalt GmbH, Germany. 
 The coin is legal tender in the Cook Islands.

Other features:

This innovative coin has been minted by using the smartminting process. The gradually increasing depression towards the centre of the coin, displays a specially created and fully functional micro-labyrinth.

Interestingly, each of the 999 boxes containing the minted coins (mintage is limited to 999 coins only) also displays a section of this mystical  labyrinth, thus transforming each individual box into a unique collector’s item , in that, only if all the boxes were assembled together, the whole picture puzzle depicting the Labyrinth diagram would be complete.

  A representation of how the 999 boxes put together will recreate the mystical labyrinth


  1. Mita Banerjee has commented:
    "Great !!"

    1. It is one of the lost Wonders of the Ancient World.

  2. Vikram Bhatnagar has commented:

    1. Indeed it is, Vikram. It got lost in time because tomb raiders were simply very scared to get into its Maze, because very few ever came out. Now it is buried under heaps of sand and underground water-streams.

  3. Ramchandra Lalingkar has commented:
    "Very interesting 'Labyrinth'."

    1. Indeed, Laligkar sahab. Interestingly, it was called the "Labyrinth" by the Greek historians after the Labyrinth of Crete in which the Minotaur (half man-half bull) was kept . The Arabic term for it was "Mataha" (meaning Labyrinth).

  4. Maggie Ksing has commented:
    "Very interesting !!!"