Some months after I constructed the SOLBO labyrinth [at Silkeborg, Denmark - see
Caerdroia 25, p.31], I visited the Vorderasiatische Museum in Berlin, Germany, and
by chance stopped at a little exhibition case and looked at a little piece of clay
from Babylon - upon it were a lot of small labyrinths.
The museum had labelled it as a “clay tablet with drawings of different liver conditions,
used for the purpose of prophecy.” It is dated to the 12th or 11th century BCE.
In my eyes the ‘liver conditions’ are very clear labyrinths with one path, but in
contradiction to the classical labyrinth there is no centre and separate entrances
and exits. These small labyrinths could have been models for the SOLBO labyrinth.
I know that piety, cult and magic played an important role in ancient Babylon, and
the priests would also have used the entrails of animals for their predictions, but
in this work with oracles I guess that labyrinths had a certain role. But which?
Another indication points in the same direction. Studying labyrinth names we are
familiar with the names of Troy Town and Trojaborg. But as Henning Eichberg has pointed
out, there are other groups of names, the Jungfrudans type, and the Babylon type.
The Babylon-type is to be found in Northern Europe as weil as in Germany, and includes
names like Babylon, Babylonie, Jerusalem, Niniveh, Jericho and others.
Could this be an accidental coincidence? I think that the entrail labyrinths fit
together with the labyrinth names, and that they form a special group of labyrinths.
Hans Lyngsgård, Skanderborg, Denmark
Reprinted from Caerdroia 25 - 1992 - p.49
Clay tablet from Babylon, 12th-11th c. BCE, Vorderasiatische Museum, Berlin.
Drawing by Hans Lyngsgård.
Similar Babylonian clay tablets, often ascribed to divinatory purposes and bearing
labyrinthine designs are documented, including several in the Schøyen Collection.
While some of the designs are superficially similar to labyrinths of the ‘classical’
type (see illustration opposite), other, more complex designs, are somewhat more
akin to the plans of puzzle mazes, although in most cases there is simply one path
in to the centre and another path out.
Jeff Saward, September 2010.
Small clay divination tablet from Mesopotamia (c. 1800 BCE) inscribed with a pattern
superficially similar to the classical labyrinth design.