The Lost Labyrinth of Ancient Egypt – Part 3: Uncovering its Location
(Read Part 1 / Read Part 2 ) More than 2,000 years ago, ancient Greek historians, Herodotus and Strabo, recorded their visits to the legendary labyrinth of Egypt, before it disappeared into the pages of history. Many believed it was lost forever, but in the last century, great gains have been made in identifying its location, culminating in the latest Mataha expedition , which has used the highest level of technology to finally unlock the secrets of the lost labyrinth.
In the 5 th century BC, Herodotus wrote that the labyrinth was “ situated a little above the lake of Moiris and nearly opposite to that which is called the City of Crocodiles” (‘Histories’, Book, II, 148).
The City of Crocodiles (Crocodilopolis) was an ancient city in the Heptanomis, on the western bank of the Nile, between the river and the Lake Moeris, southwest of Memphis. Just south of the site of Crocodilopolis, at the entrance to the depression of the Faiyum Oasis, sits Hawara, an archaeological site that is home to the pyramid of Amenemhat III, the last king of the 12th dynasty (c 1855-1808 BC).
The pyramid of Amenemhat III in Hawara. Image source .
It is here where William Flinders Petrie made a significant discovery in 1889. Petrie discovered an enormous artificial stone plateau measuring 304m by 244m, which he interpreted as being the foundation of the labyrinth. He concluded that the labyrinth itself must have been destroyed in antiquity and that all that was left was the stone base.
Map of archaeological sites in the Faiyum, showing the locations of Hawara and Crocodilopolis as 'Medinet el Fayum’. Image source: Wikipedia
However, Louis de Cordier, researcher and coordinator of the Mataha expedition, questioned Petrie’s conclusion that the stone slab must have been the foundations. He recalled that many of the classical historians referred to an enormous roof made of stone:
- Herodotus (Histories, Book, II, 148, 5 th century BC): “the roof is of stone, like the walls”.
- Diodorus Siculus (History, Book I, 61 and 66, 1 st century BC): “this building had a roof made of a single stone”.
- Strabo (Geography, Book 17, I, 3 and 37): “ The wonder of it is the roofs of each chambers are made of single stones”.
Could it be that the large stone ‘base’ identified by Petrie was actually the roof of the labyrinth and that the entire complex remained hidden beneath it? Obviously, attempting to break through the slab could cause great damage to the site so the Mataha expedition aimed to explore the area below the slab using ground-penetrating radar.
Uncovering the lost labyrinth
In February-March 2008, after receiving permission from the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt headed up at the time by Dr Zahi Hawass, a team of geo-radar specialists from the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics conducted extensive testing in the area identified by Petrie more than a century earlier. What the surveys revealed could pave the way towards one of the greatest discoveries in ancient Egypt – the scanned area showed strong suggestion of a vast number of chambers and walls several metres thick. Below the stone slab, at a depth of 8 to 12 metres, they found a grid structure of gigantic size made of a very high resistivity material, such as granite. The geophysics research confirmed the presence of archaeological features consistent with descriptions of the lost labyrinth of Egypt.
Scanning Results - Labyrinth, Hawara, Egypt. Credit: National Research Institute for Astronomy and Geophysics.
Suppression of Findings
The highly significant findings of the Mataha Expedition were published in the fall 2008 scientific journal of the NRIAG and the results were exchanged in public lecture at Ghent University in October 2008 in the presence of the Belgian press. However, it was not long after that the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (Egypt) put a stop on all communications of the findings due, supposedly, to Egyptian National Security sanctions. Louis de Cordier, expedition lead, waited two years for the Supreme Council to make the findings public, but by June 2010, it became clear that they had no intention of doing so. Thus, de Cordier launched his own website, Labyrinth of Egypt , in order to publicly post the results of this significant research project.
It is hoped that excavations can be launched in future in order to fully explore this hidden gem. The results could shed light on one of the greatest mysteries of antiquity and go down as one of the most important discoveries of ancient Egypt.
Featured image: The pyramid of Amenemhat III in Hawara and the proposed location of the lost labyrinth. Image source: Wikimedia
A video outlining the Mataha Expedition:
Mataha Expedition Hawara 2008 – Labyrinth of Egypt
Geophysical Studies at Hawara – National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics
A Virtual Exploration of the Lost Labyrinth - The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (University College London)
Return to the Labyrinth - Joseph Alexander MacGillivray. The British School of Archaeology at Athens