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A view from the summit of Mt. Lykaion, Arkadia, Greece, looking east toward the lower site of the sanctuary of Zeus, including the stoa and hippodrome  |© Danno1 /WikiCommons
A view from the summit of Mt. Lykaion, Arkadia, Greece, looking east toward the lower site of the sanctuary of Zeus, including the stoa and hippodrome |© Danno1 /WikiCommons
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Ancient Greece's Dark Legend Unearthed

Picture of Ethel Dilouambaka
Updated: 16 December 2016
A few weeks after the discovery of a necropolis near Athens, another team of archaeologists found the skeleton of what seems to be a teenager dating back to the 11th century BC on top of Mount Lykaion, the birthplace of Zeus, located in Peloponnese. An altar for animal sacrifices on the site was apparently used for centuries since 1600 BC. The remains may shed some light on sacrificial rituals of that era.

Greek archaeologist Anna Karapanagiotou, head of the excavation team, qualified the discovery as unique. ‘Several ancient literary sources mention rumors that human sacrifice took place at the altar,’ said the archaeologist.

Photo credit: Greek Culture Ministry
Photo credit: Greek Culture Ministry

Though until now, no human bones were found; this discovery may confirm a dark ancient Greek legend, linked with human sacrifice to Zeus, the supreme god.

One version of the legend is that a boy was sacrificed with animals, with the meat and human flesh cooked and eaten together. Legend has it that whoever ate the human part would turn into a wolf for nine years.
Another version states that it was King Lykaon – who was dubious about the powers of Zeus – who sacrificed his son Nyctimus to the god. He served his son’s flesh with the meat of animals. He wanted to see if the king of gods was omniscient enough to notice. And so he did. Zeus, mad with fury, cursed King Lykaon and turned him into a wolf.

The skeleton was buried in the center of the altar in an ash mound. Everything points out that the skeleton was a teenage boy.

So far, human sacrifices to gods had rarely been confirmed by archaeological discovery, but this latest discovery might change this.

The pottery artifacts found near the human remains date them to the 11th century BC, right at the fall of the Mycenaean civilization, vanquished by the Dorians.

Photo credit: Greek Culture Ministry
Photo credit: Greek Culture Ministry

Mount Lykaion is the earliest known location where Zeus was worshiped, and the site was the scene of countless animals killed in honor of the god.

Though human sacrifices in ancient times might be a possibility, it is still unknown if it was a generalized practice. Until now, only seven percent of the burial site has been dug up – who knows what the rest of the excavations may reveal.