The only true way to build an inescapable maze is for the maze to always change its layout, like the temple in Alien vs Predator or the maze from Maze Runner. This ensures that no matter how many times you use it, your memory is false and no matter how lost you get, you cannot go back.

This culture has unlimited resources and 400 years to build an always changing labyrinth but, I can only use technology from the years 2500 BC - 2100 BC. This labyrinth can and will be discovered 4000 years in the future and must still be able to move its internal components that allow it to change. For the sake of simplicity lets say, using hand waving, that the explorers cannot drill or explode through the maze, they must go through it.

Using the above information, how would People from this time build this?

A list of Can We Build question can be found here

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    $\begingroup$ A maze can still be escaped if it always changes its layout. You can still stumble over the exit by luck after a long search, you just can't do an exhaustive search. More to the point modern explorers have drills and dynamite, any wall light enough to move is unlikely to stop them. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2016 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Early bronze age construction which needs to sit for thousands of years without maintenance yet still has a functioning fully automated system of immense power to independently move walls around in ways that won't be easily defeated by advanced visitors... magic. Lots of magic. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2016 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ The only way to build an inescapable maze is to build a maze without an exit. In the maze-building lingo, we call this a "trap." A small box with air-holes suffices =) What are your actual goals for this maze? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    May 11, 2016 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ I can't help but ask. WHY? The purpose of a maze is that it makes access infeasible for those who don't know the maze, but trivial for those who do. A constantly moving maze, just makes it infeasible to traverse. But a brick wall is also infeasible to traverse.... $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    May 12, 2016 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ Just a minor point of note about the terms "Maze" and "Labyrinth" that are being thrown around interchangeably: a Labyrinth (in the English language at least) refers specifically to a maze with a single path to the centre, one entrance/exit and no dead ends ("unicursal"), that exists largely for ritualistic/religious circumstances. This clearly differs from the obvious layout requirements of the original Labyrinth, which would now be considered a "Maze". $\endgroup$ May 12, 2016 at 8:16

7 Answers 7


I'd start with one basic assumption: the maze only needs to change when someone is actually moving around in it. Admittedly, this loses some of the wow factor of something more autonomous like Maze Runner, but I think this is the only way that could reliably work.

My main suggestion is balance. Take a look at the Falkirk Wheel. The wheel is perfectly balanced, which allows 500 tonnes to be moved with only 30 horsepower. Using this principle, consider a long hallway constructed so the floor is a large, balanced lever. One person walking across a long enough lever could provide quite a bit of torque. A clear usage here is using that lever to push up a lever-wall, resulting in a new wall somewhere in the maze, and another one removed. Another one in an apparently different part of the maze could reset it.

This approach also allows for some interesting one-way features. Imagine a hallway overweight by about half a person's weight. As you start walking down the hallway, the floor begins to sink. As soon as you step off, it begins to ascend again. You're now on a lower level with no way back up to where you started. Such a system could even be triggered by more weight; sending one person at a time will get you through the hallway, but taking a group of people would trigger the sinking action.

Lastly, I'd just like to mention an awesome fact. You can use just levers to build a mechanical computer. Doing this may make the maze more deterministic than you'd like, but it's still cool.

  • $\begingroup$ A good point on the 'only active when occupied' idea is that if it were autonomous and constantly shifting, the gears, axles, rods and the walls themselves would be constantly wearing down. Both weathering and mechanical wearing would leave the maze crumbling well before the 4000 year mark. $\endgroup$
    – XenoDwarf
    May 12, 2016 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ if you want something non-deterministic, just encourage birds to roost in your lever room. So long as you have a way to periodically clean it (intermittent flooding, perhaps?), the effectively random positioning and movement of the birds can create a non-deterministic maze. $\endgroup$
    – ckersch
    May 16, 2016 at 16:39

Most of the others did point out correctly what will happen to superstructures that are made out of erodible building materials 4000 years after construction: they'll tend to fail somehow. Especially if you want to move around whole rooms. Even materials from this day wouldn't stand the test of time... except if you manage to build this out of highly corrosion resistant plastic (maybe).

So I'll offer this:

The crazy labyrinth powered by door opening explorers approach

You can go for a crazy labyrinth approach on a less mass-intensive scale. I saw the slab-setup AndyD suggested, but you can go even smaller and just make the doors highly irritating. Use a single axis to rotate two doors at different levels, but have one's open setting be the others closed setting by having the corridor at the other level passing by at right angles. When you manage to make a closed door look like the wall of a room, your explorers would close the opening in the strange-room (tm) they went through a hour ago by opening the door-to-dead-end (tm) they met now. Going back and... wasn't there a door?

Combine this with hard-to-notice-changes-of-level using long winding corridors and make two rooms look alike; when they come in they might think they were here already (except for the clever ones who leave glowing light sticks lying around).

Combine these two, so they will make the long-winding-corridor winding in another direction if a door a level below was opened. lead them in a third room that looks like the first two and repeat as long as possible.

If you feel cruel, make the level-separated doors detach when pushing in the other direction. Even meaner: have such a double-door blocking off another double-door, so the strange-room (tm) with the used glowing light sicks lying around inside can't be exited through that wall where everyone agrees that was a door when they entered.

Speaking of closing off walkways - its hard to pull a stone-wall-door when it fits perfectly into the wall because you can't grab it properly; doors employed in such a way make fine fake walls.

Okay, one level of mean door-play I still have to offer: use that two-level-door to push a stone wall until it falls through a slit in the bottom. Now that's a sure way to keep anything from escaping ever, but its a one-use-device. You can use this for more indirect effects, like having an underground river flowing over due to being blocked off and drowning anybody inside your labyrinth.

Sadly, the whole idea could be exploited by not pushing these doors to their maximum opening positions, so maybe whole 90 degree turns should be avoided in favor of ... 30 degree turns. Just enough space to have a curious explorer fit through.



Your labyrinth is going to have to survive an incredible amount of weathering and erosion. There is a significant amount of randomness to the world's weather, of course, but optimistically an ancient structure could survive for this long (the Great Pyramids, for example). However, we also need this facility to function after thousands of years, which means it will have to especially robust.


No matter how sophisticated the machinery, if the maze needs to shift more than a single time there will need to be a constant, nigh-unlimited power source from which to draw energy. There will also need to be mechanisms that harness this energy in order to affect the changes in the maze. Mechanisms need to be dependable in order to survive the millennia of waiting, and they need to be robust in order to move the presumably weighty barriers.


For the reasons listed above, your maze will need to be constructed of materials not easily affected by the elements, but it also needs to be able to withstand determined escapees. If someone is trapped in the maze, they will eventually resort to physical destruction in order to escape. Also, as has been mentioned in the comments, there will a non-zero chance that someone random-walking through the maze will accidentally discover the exit no matter how convoluted the system. If you intend for your victims to never escape, there will need to be a solution to both problems.


The years 2500 - 2100 BCE contain quite the variety of technological possibilities depending upon where on the Earth we are located, but if we want to be as advanced as possible (and we probably should) we'll likely want to be in the Near East, India, or China. You may recognize those locations as the early River Valley Civilizations, and that is no coincidence. By the time period in question, these civilizations were already approaching the Middle Bronze Age, which will give us the most advanced technology we're likely to find anywhere on the Earth at the time. So let's look at the three requirements from the guise of an ancient engineer.

  • Granite or a similar stone could be used for the base structure. The Walls, Floors, and Ceiling could all be made of stone, even the moving portions. It is resistant to weathering, though not weather-proof.
  • Building underground will provide excellent protection from the elements. Some Egyptian tombs have survived basically unfazed through millennia because their construction left them effectively hermetically sealed.
  • A river and a series of water wheels could provide the power for the labyrinth. In fact, placing the maze underground will help in this regard because it adds potential energy to the water which will fall into the maze and generate even more power than if the water wheels were on the surface.
  • Mechanisms made from rope and wood will decay no matter what, so the construction will have to be done with metal and stone exclusively. This includes water wheels, any rollers, counterweights, pulleys, gears, or anything. Personally, I think I would mostly use blocks of granite on stone rollers, and push the blocks around (think pistons in Minecraft without any sticky goo). Stone and Metal simply do not have the tensile strength to support a system of pulleys or other hanging mechanisms. You'll have to rely on compression alone, which will be challenging but not game-breaking.
  • Finally, you have the issue of human destruction. A victim trapped in the maze will eventually try to break their way out using violence if they see no other alternative. I propose sealing the maze completely with no chance of escape, but let the system continue to change in order to provide the illusion that there is an escape somewhere. The victims will follow the path of least resistance and will likely just search for the exit rather than break things to get out. Beyond that, a system constructed of nothing but metal and stone will be quite formidable to an unarmed human anyway, so the risk is minimal in the first place.


Obviously, this is an extremely optimistic setup. Earthquakes, Meteors, and other geological "acts of God" could lay waste to this construction no matter what precautions you take. Also, using water as a power source (which is really the only option during the Bronze Age) comes with the risk of water erosion. Also, even metals will decay eventually. Bronze is more resistant to corrosion than steel, but it's not everlasting. Your stones might fatigue over time and crack. Dust could collect in the mechanisms and result in a failure when they are activated. Honestly, any number of things can go wrong. BUT, there is at least a snowball's chance that this thing could actually work. Hope that's enough!

  • $\begingroup$ Instead of stone rollers under the segments, perhaps the segments might be rafts, floating on an underground lake? (Dry until the labyrinth is triggered) If you already use water power for any moving parts, floating the whole labyrinth is easy. Moving a whole row of rafts is much easier than a row of segments on rollers. As a bonus, floating segments might explain why drilling/blasting is off. tampering with a segment might cause it to sink with the cheating maze explorer inside. The problem is of course to construct a raft that will float 4000 years later. $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    May 12, 2016 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer, but 4000 years is an incredible amount of wear. I just don't see how they will still be viable without maintanence. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    May 12, 2016 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Guran It would have to be non biological in order to survive, since anything organic would rot/dry rot long before. Stories about early Egyptologists going into tombs and seeing where there once was a great chariot where all the wood turned to dust and the only way to guess what it looked like was to analyze where the metal bits fell. You could either have a stone slab with an air pocket underneath (iffy) or use a slab of pumice, since that floats naturally, and would be resistant to falling apart, especially if the area was left dry until it was needed. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    May 12, 2016 at 15:39

Given the enormous time over which your labyrinth must remain functional I think you have to abandon every common notion of the stone labyrinth you probably envisioned so far.

It is already highly unlikely to think that a civilization 2500-2000 BC could create anything even remotely similar to a stone labyrinth with moving walls, floors and doors it is completely impossible for such a structure to still be in working condition after more than 4000 unsupervised years.

For this to work we need to think outside the box:

  • Maybe your labyrinth is partially flooded by water: the tides, the season and changing weather conditions could lead to some parts being flooded, then others. While this would create a little wear on the dungeon walls, 4000 years isn't a long time in geological terms, so this could work well.

  • Make the moving parts alive: what if animal herds or vegetation make for the moving part of your labyrinth, blocking of some sections while opening up the ones they left?


I think it could be done.

First--the elements will destroy your control system over 4000 years, thus you must shield it from the elements. Go underground--say, a cave.

Second--power. There's only one viable source: water. You need a never-dry small river to operate it.

As for how to make it work: The maze floor is made of tiles--some of which are pressure plates. The pressure plate moves a small mechanism that diverts a small amount of water--this keeps the needed pressure low and doesn't make for big drops in the pressure plates as the mechanism is activated.

When the amount of water is too low to do the job directly use it to operate a larger control to get enough water.

In it's passive state the water simply flows through the system without being diverted and does nothing. Any controls that are operated divert water into float chambers that lift a partition and apply sideways pressure to it--it moves into a new position. Once in the new position it trips a valve that resets the original, the water drains away.

The actual changes in the maze are from these partitions being slid into or out of the way. Since they can't slide unless first lifted up and they have no exposed edge to lift it would not be easy for someone in the maze to operate them. They can also be quite heavy--even if someone drills the wall and puts in something they can grip they're too heavy to move.

Note that this mechanism is slow and thus there must be considerable separation between the partition and it's trigger.


There are two factors in a maze: complexity and difficulty.

The easiest way to increase the difficulty is to build islands as this breaks the traditional "follow the wall" option for solving it.

The easiest way to massively increase the complexity of a maze is to build it in three dimensions. A two dimensional maze has a complexity cap, ultimately at any point you have a limited number of options, most of which will end with a dead end in fairly short order. If two are linked in a loop, everything between is a dead end. Start putting in bridges and tunnels and anything could happen. Just because you've walked round three sides of a path option no longer means going down it is a dead end.

To make your maze shift and turn is now a lot easier, you have bridges that swing and don't always go to the same place, levered floors that don't always end up at the same level. If you need power, a river running nearby will allow you to reset things. Triggers, weights and balances can power movement by dumping water, then reset by refilling the bucket.


They did have mining and stone working back then, so that's where I'd start, by mining out a huge underground complex.

In order for the maze to change I'd have big slabs of rock that fit into pockets in the ceiling, and that could be raised and lowered at random.

By using counter weights, possibly by linking two slabs so that one goes up while the other goes down, you could make it so that it wouldn't take that much effort to move them under normal conditions, and then by using water power, possibly with a tipping bucket system or something similar to give it some randomness, you could cause the slabs to shift without any human involvement.

You could also go the other way, by having the slabs set in the floor, and then raising them using water flowing through channels and filling pockets that float the slabs up to block the passage. The downside of this is what it would take to raise a several ton slab of rock.
Maybe if the rock was pumice then it would float naturally and be a lot lighter too, but pumice is soft enough that digging through it wouldn't be hard. It could be pumice faced with granite or metal.

Considering the pyramids were built around 4000 BC, this kind of rock cutting and shaping would have been technically possible with enough skilled workers, and especially if they already had a mine started to start with.

The handwavyness comes in with the idea that this setup could exist for 6000+ years without crumbling to dust, but it is possible.

One way that it could exist for that amount of time is if it was completely dormant. Take the "slabs raise from the floor and are powered by water channels option"; First make sure that it is in a geographically stable area with zero seismic activity. If the channels are completely drained, the water source blocked off, and the entrance very tightly sealed, the maze would have essentially zero wear and tear, little to no dust or moisture to get in and cause corrosion or gum up the works, and generally be inert. It could at that point exist for a long long time without falling to pieces.
To wake it up, have the door being unsealed be a trigger that unblocks the water and allows it to flow through the channels again, raising some slabs right away, and restarting the randomized sequence.

The important part is that the maze can't make use of any organic materials like wood, rope, etc. since those things would most likely rot away long before the maze was needed again.

Just a thought... just because it's old doesn't mean that it has to be completely abandoned. There could be a local tribe that does the required maintenance as part of it's religious rituals for instance.
It is a long time, but it's at least possible that an extremely isolated group could maintain their culture.


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