Excavations at the Sanctuary of Zeus atop Greece’s Mount Lykaion have revealed that ritual activities occurred there for roughly 1,500 years, from the height of classic Greek civilization around 3,400 years ago until just before Roman conquest in 146.
“We may have the first documented mountaintop shrine from the ancient Greek world,” says project director David Romano of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Ritual ceremonies were conducted in a part of the open-air sanctuary called the ash altar of Zeus. It now consists of a mound of ash, stone and various inscribed dedications to Zeus, the head god of Greek mythology. Romano’s team has found no evidence of a temple or structures of any kind on Mount Lykaion.
Work conducted over the past two years at the ash altar of Zeus has unearthed material from many phases of Greek civilization. Finds include pottery of various types, terra cotta figurines of people and animals, and burned bones of sheep and goats.
Chemical analyses have revealed traces of red wine on the inside surfaces of some pottery fragments, Romano says.
His team reported initial evidence of ritual activity at the ash altar of Zeus in 2007. The new discoveries indicate that ancient Greeks kept returning to the sacred site for a remarkably long time.