On the Burial at the Sanctuary of Zeus Lykaios

Χαίρετε πάντες!

Today I wanted to share some thought concerning the recent excavation of a burial underneath the Altar of Zeus Lykaios, an ashen altar built up of many, many centuries since prehistoric times on Mount Lykaion in Arkadia, Hellas. For those who haven’t heard about it yet, here is an article about it.

temple-of-zeus

The burial discovered at the altar on Mt. Lykaion.

Here’s some of the information on the burial. It has been dated to the 11th century BCE, nearing the end of the Mycenaean period, the age in which many mythical events such as the Trojan War took place. The skeleton is that of a male teenager and is missing part of the cranium, of which there is so far no trace.

I would like to first direct you to an official statement made by YSEE, published via ECER’s website, which you can find here.

Now for some of my own thoughts. First, there has as of yet been no osteological analysis of the bones found in the grave, therefore we do not know yet whether the remains actually show signs of butchering, as would have happened if this person was sacrificed.

Second, if he was sacrificed, why was he buried then, rather then have the remains of his bones be included in the altar itself, just like the bone fragments of all the sacrificed animals at the site?

Third, it is not entirely unheard of to have burials in sanctuaries. Typically these would have been Heroes or Deified mortals connected to that shrine, either because it was dedicated to them, or dedicated to a deity they are connected to. For example, Hyakinthos buried in the altar of Apollon Amyklaios. Hyakinthos was worshipped as a Hero, but also as being reborn as the God Apollon Hyakinthios. Another example is the daughters of Keleus, who were buried in the sanctuary of Eleusinian Demeter, and Kekrops in the temple of Athena at Athens. There are a lot more examples to be found.

So far, until the osteological evidence is made public, it seems more reasonable to assume that this burial is in fact of a Hero connected to Zeus Lykaios and his cult, rather than a human sacrifice. Unfortunately, there survive no myths about any Heroes connected to this cult. But the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. Let’s await the osteological analysis before further speculating too wildly about this find.

Ἔρρωσο.

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3 comments on “On the Burial at the Sanctuary of Zeus Lykaios

  1. a valid point that you made there, which i didn’t think of that it could be part of a burial of a hero or someone along that line.

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  2. […] On the burial at the sanctuary of Zeus Lykios […]

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  3. […] Coming back to the wolf connection, it is described by ancient authors that the cultus of Zeus Lykaios was maintained by a particular clan that would sacrifice to Zeus Lykaios in his sanctuary every nine years, with a single piece of human intestines mixed in with the animal sacrificial meat that was prepared and consumed by the worshippers. It is said the person who ate the human piece would transform into a wolf for the duration of nine years and would then turn back into a human, on the condition that he did not eat any human meat while in wolf form all those years. Whether this cannibalism is factual or not is still undetermined. A while ago, I did write a blog post when a human burial was found within the sacred precinct, underneath the ash altar. You can find that blog post here. […]

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