Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Friday, April 6, 2012

More on Patagonian Mazes and Labyrinths

cueva de los indios labyrinth, Patagonia
Spiral Maze at Cueva de los Indios, Santa Cruz, Patagonia

Argentine researcher, historian and anthropologist, Rodolfo Casamiquela suggested that the Patagonian rock art depicting labyrinths had some relationship with those found in the Mediterranean basin. My previous post on Patagonian Labyrinths was an introduction, today we will delve a bit deeper:

Patagonian Labyrinths, some examples

a. Cueva Grande

maze at Cueva Grande Patagonia
Spiral Maze engraved in a rock at Cueva Grande, Santa Cruz, Patagonia From [1]

The photograph above is the “complex spiral figure” [1] at Boulder N° 2, Cueva Grande rock shelter in Santa Cruz province, close to the Deseado River Valley. The paper from which I took the photograph says that the position of the spiral, engraved (not painted) into the rock, is a clear indication of its relevance: “[the] more central position of the most complex curvilinear figures is outstanding, since in a variety of ethnographic conexts slabyrinths, concentric circles and spyrals have mythological connotations related to the renewal of life" [1]

In other words, the spiral shaped labyrinth has a religious meaning of re-birth or perhaps some kind of afterlife.

b. Alero El Galpón.

The image below shows the motiff found on Block N° 4 at Alero el Galpón, Santa Cruz province in the same general area as the Cueva Grande site. The block, regrettably disappeared! [3]

Alero El Galpon
Spiral Maze at Alero El Galpón, Patagonia. From [3]

Casamiquela and his dates...

In my previous post I quoted Casamiquela dating these Patagonian labyrinths to the period around the birth of Christ (i.e. two thousand years ago). He adds that the classical labyrinth of the Tragliatella type, from Knossos, dates back to 220 BC. Which is clearly incorrect, as we will see below the Etruscan vase dates back to 620 BC and the myth itself is very likely much older.

Tragliatella Vase

It is an oinochoe a peculiar kind of wine jug made by the ancient Greeks. The Tragliatella jug or vase, was unearthed in 1878, from an Etruscan grave in Cere, Cerveteri, Italy. It has been dated to 620 B.C. The labyrinth, engraved on a vase, is shown below [2], it seems that some armed horsemen are emerging from it.

maze on Tragliatella Vase
Tragliatella Wine Jug, note horsemen, maze with word Truia (Troy) inside it and, on the right, mating couples

The vase itself is shown below:

Traglilatella jug
Etruscan Tragliatella Vase 650 BC. Maze can be seen.. From [2]

The resemblance between the shapes of both mazes (Tragliatella maze and Alero El Galpón) is amazing, coincidence? proof of an encounter between Mediterranean mariners and Patagonian natives? How can we know for sure?

Casamiquela (see my previous post) is certain that the Patagonian maze motif derived from European ones (I have not yet found his proof)...

But lets get back to the Tagliatella wine jug.

It seems that the soldiers (according to a Virgil [BC 70 - 19] in his epic poem Aeneid) are taking part in a sport called “Game of Troy” (Ludus Trojae in Latin), some kind of equestrian parade performed by young well-to-do men. Virgil compares the whirling mounted men, riding on intertwining and winding courses with the intrincate maze of Crete.[2]

Perhaps in ancient times it had some "fertility" rites associated to the dance (hence the trysting couples depicted on the jug).

The Cretan youths danced and did acrobatics on the horns of running bulls, as shown by remnants of their art. The Cretan bulls in turn are associated to the Minotaur - Labyrinth myth.

Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull being begat by Pasiphae, wife of Cretan King Minos, after mating with a bull (God Poseidon made her do so), lived in a maze. King Minos forced the Athenians to provde seven young men and women every nine years as a sacrifice to Minotaur. Finally a young hero Theseus slayed the monster.

There seems to be a relationship between fertility - youth - life and death in the Minotaur / Maze myth. Were Patagonian mazes associated to fertility ceremonies? Or is it a symbolism of re-birth and life renewed? More in my next posts.


[1] Carden, Natalia (2088) Territories among hunter-gatherers & the ritual dimension of landscapes: the central Patagonian plateau, Argentina. Before Farming 2008/1, versión online, artículo 1: pp. 1-19. ISSN 1476-4261. fig. 11.
[2]Matthews, W. H., (1912). Mazes and Labyrinths. A General Account of their History and Development. Chapter XVIII, The Dance or Game of Troy.
[3]Carden, N. (2007). Paisajes Rituales y Laberintos. Fig 11, "C". Boletin del Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. Vol. 12, N° 1, 2007, pp. 43-60, Santiago de Chile. ISSN 0716-1530

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2011 by Austin Whittall © 

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