Long held to be a known archaeological site, the Labyrinth of Crete was never built, says a new study. Fotis Kapetopoulos reports.
The labyrinth is popularly held to have been in the Palace of Knossos, built around 1950 BCE, the ruins of which stand near the city of Heraklion on the north coast of Crete.
This is wrong, according to Antonis Kotsonas, a classical archaeologist from the University of Cincinnati, US. In a paper published in the American Journal of Archaeology, the researcher, using a cross-disciplinary study, points to the absence of any actual evidence that Iron Age Cretans built any form of monumental labyrinth in Knossos.
Kotsonas suggests the Cretan Labyrinth is a monument only in memory, regardless of it being “considered a monument that once actually existed”. Yet the search for a maze under or the near the very real Bronze Age Knossos site has taken on legendary proportions.
In 1900, the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the first non-Cretan to excavate the area, initially negated the idea that a labyrinth existed. However, writes Kotsonas, at some “indeterminate later point added, ‘No, on further examination I think it must be so’”.
His change of heart was based, Kotsonas writes, on the “architectural plans and rich bull iconography” he found at Knossos.
By 1905, the idea that Knossos had housed an actual labyrinth was so common that its truth was taken for granted. Further evidence was claimed in the mid-twentieth century when tablets written in the language known as Linear-B were found at the site.
The tablets featured designs that clearly represented mazes. However, Kotsonas suggests, these were not representations of a specific place, but part of “the long history of maze depictions in earlier Aegean and Mediterranean art”.