Ancient labyrinth motifs and patterns are found on all continents and are up to 4,000 years old. There are many myths, stories and interpretations about labyrinths, as they have been used in rituals and ceremonies in various cultures throughout history.
The oldest reliably dated labyrinth is of the Classical style and appears on a fragment of pottery from King Nestor's palace at Pylos in southern Greece and dates from c. 1200 BCE. The Labyrinth symbol was also found in Pompeii, which was destroyed in 79 CE, and on silver coins from Knossos dating from about 400 BCE.
Stone labyrinths from the 13th to 16th centuries can be found along the Baltic coast. It is thought that the symbols were built by fishermen seeking fine weather and and abundant catch.
During the Roman Empire, Labyrinth designs were used in buildings and entrance ways to civil buildings and are thought to have been considered protective symbols. They have also been found in countries throughout the world such as Peru, Arizona, Iceland, Egypt, India, Scandinavia and Sumatra. In Sweden, many of the oldest Labyrinths seem to have an orientation towards the Summer Solstice Sunset. Labyrinths associated with tombs could have symbolized the journey of the soul after death.
The labyrinth was a central feature in many of the European Roman Catholic churches in the Middle Ages and many of these still exist today. The most famous of these remaining labyrinths is at Chartres Cathedral near Paris, France. The labyrinth at Chartres was built around 1200. These labyrinths were often walked as a pilgrimage by those unable to go to Jerusalem.
Labyrinths have been constructed from a wide range of materials such as stones, petroglyph carvings, turf, beach sand, and inlaid on the floors of cathedrals.
"There are labyrinth petroglyphs of genuine prehistoric origin to be found in Europe, their antiquity proven by their association with other undoubtedly ancient inscriptions. The most exciting of these are surely the collection of labyrinths and labyrinthine designs carved on rock outcrops in the provinces of Pontevedra and Vigo along the coastline of Galicia in Northwest Spain, and a newly discovered panel in León, some 200 km further inland from here." - The First Labyrinths - by Jeff Saward. Read more here.
Coin of Knossos, 2nd Century BC, with Zeus in the form of a bull to kidnap Europe, Mother of King Minos, on the one side and the other chart corridors of the Labyrinth. Read more here.
Pansaimol, India, Neolithic. Find more ancient Labyrinth photos here
Many thanks to the reserachers and writers who have made their work in Labyrinths available in the public domain. Please follow the above "read more" links to access more indepth research.