For almost 2,000 years, the rumours of human sacrifices to the Greek God Zeus, atop Mount Lykaion have been flying around archaeological, and historical circles. now, there may be proof that the human sacrifices, are not rumours at all.
Reports of human sacrifices to Zeus, atop Mount Lykaion began in the 2nd century A.D. when ancient traveller Pausanias climbed Mount Lykaion, where he discovered a mount of earth, and Doric columns, topped by golden eagles. “On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lykaion Zeus,” he reported. “I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning.” Although reluctant Pausanias recorded a fascinating (but also gruesome) tale passed through generation since antiquity, when a King sacrificed a human baby on the altar, before becoming a wolf, after pouring the baby’s blood on the shrine.
Above: Mount Lykaion; the site of thousands of sacrifices to Zeus.
Pausanias was not the only person to report the happenings; with other Greeks, including Plato, documenting Mount Lykaion as the location of human sacrifices honouring Zeus. It is believed Mount Lykaion was chosen, as it is the birthplace of Zeus, in Greek mythology.
The stories had been dismissed as legends, for centuries, but an announcement by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports has reignited belief that the tales of human sacrifices may be true.
A human skeleton, believed to belong to a teenage male, was discovered among the ashes, of animals sacrificed at the Mount Lykaion altar. The remains were discovered with the upper half of the skull missing, and stone slabs covering the pelvis. The body was found in a 100-foot broad ash altar, adjacent to a stone platform. The alignment of the bones was also interesting. The body was face up, on an east-west parallel, aligned to two lines of stones. Archaeologists have dated the skeleton, using pottery found in close proximity to the 11th Century B.C. placing it at the end of Mycenaean era, and making it some 3,100 years old.
Above: Human remaians found atop Mount Lykaion.
The discovery, among others, was made by a team archaeologists made up of a partnership between the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports, and the University of Arizona; known as the “Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project”.
David Gilman Romano, professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona and part of the research team explained, when speaking to Associated Press – “Several ancient literary sources mention rumours that human sacrifices took place at the altar, but up until a few weeks ago there has been no trace whatsoever of human bones discovered at the site,” he continued “Whether it’s a sacrifice or not, this is a sacrificial altar … so it’s not a place where you would bury an individual. It’s not a cemetery.”
Mount Lykaion, is documented as the earliest site where the ancient Greeks worshipped Zeus. The cult of Zeus had tens of thousands of animals sacrificed over the course of 1,000 years (beginning in the 16th Century B.C.).
Although archaeologists are cautious to jump to conclusions, and warn that it is still early in the process (only 7 percent of the altar has been excavated), the burial location of the body is anomalous, and suggests special significance.
The team have also uncovered fragments of both human and animal figurines, vases, cups and coins, with work at the site expected to continue, through until at least 2020. As mentioned earlier, only 7 percent of the altar has been excavated to date, so there is far more that will be revealed over the coming years, with more mysteries solved along the way.
By Edward Bourke