Mt. Lykaion and the Worship of Zeus

I don’t know how I missed this, but National Geographic has an interesting article concerning archaeological excavations at Mt. Lykaion – one of the birthplaces of Zeus (the other being Mt. Ida in Crete, but we know what Epimenides thought of the Cretans). According to the article, excavations reveal that sacrifices took place at Mt. Lykaion a full 1,000 years before Zeus made an appearance:

Now pottery unearthed by the Greek-American Mount Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project shows the mountaintop’s conical ash altar was used for sacrifices and other rites centuries before Greeks began to worship their most powerful god.

The article continues:

“So if, as we suppose, the Greeks arrive in Greece at the beginning of the second millennium B.C., it is no surprise to see that their cult site goes back to the third millennium B.C.,” Dowden said in email.
“The cult sites of earlier inhabitants are still regarded as valid,” he said, “and when the language spoken eventually changes to Greek, so may the name of the god.

Which makes me think of the Pelasgians who do have some connection to Crete and, theoretically, pre-Greek inhabitants of Greece.
The excavations also have something to say about the later history:

Some Writers–including the second-century A.D. geographer Pausanias–have hinted that human sacrifices took place at the site.
So far, digging has turned up only numerous goat and sheep remains.
But an ancient hippodrome, stadium, and other buildings grace a lower-mountain meadow–remains of ancient athletic contests that once drew competitors from across Greece and rivaled the games at neighboring Olympia.
“In some ways Olympia might have been modeled after this site, which may have been–according to Pliny–an earlier site,” Romano said, referring to the first-century A.D. Roman scientist and historian.
The team has also unearthed an intriguing find from this later era–a rock crystal seal with an image of a bull that identifies it as Minoan, from around 1500-1400 B.C.

Interesting stuff!

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8 Responses

  1. Is there a link to the NatGeo article?

  2. oops! I’ll fix that.

  3. oops! I’ll fix that.

  4. Thanks – I love this stuff. Do I get extra credit if I see The Baby Zeus in a Potato?



  7. This is not surprising. As people slowly moved (whether from migration or conquest) from one region of Asia/Europe to another, local names were adopted, or new names for similar objects (whether that be a god or a tree) were introduced. Just part of the natural process.
    One of my favorite books is “In Search of the Indo-Europeans” by Mallory. I would love to find similar works (written to my low level of intelligence and comprehension) that attempt to use linguistics and archeology to track the migration patterns of the “indigenous” peoples of Europe and Asia (Southern/Western) before the Indo-European “invasion.” I quoted indigenous because there were likely many “waves” of migrations to the various regions since the period of time when the glacial melts began and perhaps before that time.
    It stinks that so much of history is just lost.

  8. If anyone is still interested in this topic, there is a wonderful book out there, called “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shapes the Modern World” by David Anthony, published by Princeton University Press (Princeton and Oxford), out in 2007, available on Amazon. It’s mainly about the origin of the Indo-Europeans, covering linguistics and archeology with amazing thoroughness. But, along the way, it also covers almost all the other cultures that the interacted with in Eastern Europe, the Near East, and in Southern Europe — and I’m only halfway through the book. It dates the Proto-Indo-Europeans as well as placing them geographically (in the Pontic-Caspian steppe), providing a wealth of illustrations of archeological artifacts that, if you do not read Russian, you would otherwise not have access to.
    If you want to go further back in time, closer to the end of the last ice age, and can read some rather technical language, there is an article in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Spencer Wells et al, 2001, “The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity” Vol. 98 No. 18 (August 28) pp. 10244-10249. DOI: 10.1072/pnas.171305098.
    For a summary of this and other studies covering most of the world, you could always buy my book “The Human Journey” available on the Kindle electronic book (less than $10 now) on Amazon. There is also a recent study of genetic data of people on the island of Crete, which indicates that they are different from other Greeks. (“The origin of Cretan populations as determined by characterization of HLA alleles” in Tissue Antigens 1999 Mar. 53 (3):213-226). I am not an expert in the chemistry involved, but the conclusions are clear enough. Most of the Greek population originated after 2000 B.C., probably as Indo-European speakers. But most Cretan were there earlier, from before the Neolithic. They share a number of genes with Imazighen populations, Caucasoid Berbers who now live along the North African coast and in various parts of the Sahara desert. Some of these people, it is hypothesized, migrated northward as far as Crete between 8000 and 6000 B.C., when the Sahara-Sahel area first began to dry up (before that, it was very green and supported herds of animals, like modern sub-Saharan Africa, as a recent article in the journal Science demonstrated). They are thought to be related to the populations that became Sumerians (ancient southern Iraqis) and Iberians (ancient Spain and Portugal) also. The authors say that this is supported by linguistic data as well as genetic data, but I have my doubts about that part. So far as I know, Sumerian is an agglutinative language rather like modern Turkish, not known to be related to anything else. Linear A, the oldest type of writing found on Crete, has recently been deciphered by the Frenchman, Hubert la Marle, as a form of ancient Indo-Iranian, an Indo-European language very distantly related to Greek. The ancient Iberian language is thought to be ancestral to Basque, another isolate.

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