The site that inspired the ancient Greek Labyrinth, a mythical maze that supposedly housed the bull-man Minotaur, may have just been unearthed in Crete by an international team of researchers.
Oxford University geographer Nicholas Howarth and his colleagues believe a cave complex near Gortyn on the Greek island could have led to the myth. The cave system consists of a twisting and turning network of underground tunnels. Howarth describes it as "dark and dangerous."
The 2.5-mile-long underground system is even called Labyrinthos Caves by locals. Some of its paths lead to large chambers, while others result in dead ends.
As for the Minotaur part of the story, many ancient cultures, including the early Greeks, believed that bulls were sacred animals. The worship of these animals spread throughout the world, and into numerous different countries and religions. If you look at some Christian nativity scenes, you might even see a bull or an ox standing next to the infant Jesus. A few carols mention that the bull warmed the baby with its breath.
So it is no surprise that bulls inspired the mythical Minotaur, a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man. He supposedly lived at the center of the Labyrinth.
The mind reels thinking what might have actually happened in the Gortyn cave complex, if it indeed inspired the ancient Greek Labyrinth. (Knossos is another contender.) Could rulers have stuck a bull in the caves and then challenged certain individuals to go through the maze and attempt to come back out alive? I hope additional archaeological finds in future shed more light on the matter.
One thing we can be sure of: Animals, such as bulls, inspired numerous half-man/half-beast mythical creatures.
Minotaur: Bull + Human
Centaur: Horse + Human
(Centaur image; Credit: Jastrow)