Bones found on Mount Lykaion – where animal offerings to Zeus were also made – but some are urging caution over how to interpret the discovery
The discovery of a 3,000-year-old skeleton in Greece has excited archeologists, who believe that the finding may confirm one of the darkest legends of antiquity.
Greece’s culture ministry announced on Wednesday that a Greek-American team of researchers had discovered the skeleton of a teenager on the side of Mount Lykaion – known to be the site of animal sacrifices to Zeus.
“Much later, sources talk about human sacrifices taking place on Lykaion,” Anna Karapanagiotou, the head of the local archeological service, told a local municipal radio. “All this will be studied.”
Mount Lykaion was associated with human sacrifice by many ancient writers, including Plato, and while it may be too early to speculate on how the teenager died, the location adds a strong connection. “It nearly seems to good to be true,” said Dr Jan N Bremmer, professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, and an editor of The Strange World of Human Sacrifice.
Bremmer said that until now, most studies of human sacrifice in ancient Greece had concluded that it was probably fiction. While the ancient Israelites, Romans and Egyptians engaged in human sacrifice for religious purposes, 20th-century archaeologists had thought that the practice was not common among the Greeks.
Bremmer remained somewhat skeptical about the finding and questioned whether the location influenced the interpretation.
David Gilman Romano, professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona, who participated in the dig on Mount Lykaion said classical writers linked the remote peak with human sacrifice. According to legend, a young boy would be sacrificed with animals, before the human and animal meat was cooked and eaten. “Several ancient literary sources mention rumours that human sacrifice took place at the altar [of Zeus, located on the mountain’s southern peak] but up until a few weeks ago there has been no trace whatsoever of human bones discovered at the site,” said Romano.