Article: Worship at Zeus's "Birthplace" Predates t

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Article: Worship at Zeus's "Birthplace" Predates t

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Mon Jan 28, 2008 11:51 am


A recent archeological survey has uncovered that the cultsite of Mnt. Lykaion is alot older than previously thought. It was already used by the original inhabitants of Hellas prior to the arrival of the Greeks.

Worship at Zeus's "Birthplace" Predates the Greek God

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
January 25, 2008

Excavations at Zeus's mountaintop "birthplace" suggest the site's ash
altar was in use at least 5,000 years ago—a thousand years before the
earliest known versions of the myth of the Greek god.

Perched on the summit of remote Mount Lykaion, some 4,500 feet (1,370
meters) above the sea, the shrine is about 22 miles (35 kilometers)
from the more thoroughly excavated Olympia.

One of two locations referred to in classical literature as Zeus's
"birthplace, " Mount Lykaion has attracted the god's devotees and
pilgrims for millennia.

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.

Birth of a God

Greek-speaking peoples moved into the region of modern Greece some
4,000 years ago and brought their religions with them, archaeologists say.

"What was the altar used for in the thousand-odd years before that
time?" asked David Gilman Romano, one of the project's directors.

"It's our hope that we'll learn much more about the early use of this
altar and the origins of Zeus [and] what was going on during those
thousand years before there was a Zeus," said Romano, an archaeologist
at the University of Pennsylvania' s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Romano and colleagues have no sure answers, but they say there's good
reason to believe the mountaintop weather and natural phenomena gave
rise to the stormy god of gods.

"Rain, thunder, lightning, storms, clouds—all of these things are
[associated with] Zeus," Romano said.

"He's a god that historically is often found on mountaintops, and the
theory has been presented that the whole idea of Zeus may have come
from a weather god as a result of the natural phenomena found on
mountaintops. "

George Davis of the University of Arizona, a geologist working with
the project, has even identified a fault line encircling much of the
Arcadian mountaintop, suggesting earthquakes were also part of the
impressive array of natural events.

What's Already There

Ken Dowden, director of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at
the University of Birmingham, U.K., said that when the Greeks arrived,
they likely adapted the region's existing religions rather than
sweeping them away.

"Paganism is a language, and you suppose that other people worship
your gods under the appropriate names in their language," said Dowden,
author of Zeus, one in a series of books on ancient gods.

"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.

"There can be no doubt the Greeks brought 'Zeus,' the name, with them
to Mount Lykaion. But you do tend to worship a sky and weather god on
mountain peaks, and that's doubtless what his predecessor (as we would
view it) was."

The two leading myths about Zeus's birth were perpetuated in the
writings of Greek and Roman authors. One suggests the God had his
origins on Crete, instead of Mount Lykaion.

"It's always interesting to look for what may be the facts behind the
myth," Romano said. "That's what we're involved in."

Sacrifice, Competition

The research team is also turning up interesting findings from the
site's later history.

Many ancient authors have documented the peak as a thriving center for
Panhellenic pilgrimage from the Archaic period to the Hellenistic
period (700-200 B.C.).

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.

Scholars say the artifact may indicate some kind of Crete-Arcadia
connection related to early Zeus worship.

Certainly, Romano said, the seal's presence is not an accident.

"It's an important object, so whoever put it there did it for a
reason," he said. It's "a dedication to the god—at that time,
Zeus—that was meaningful, [because it meant] leaving something of
worth on the altar."

The excavations—the first at the Mount Lykaion site in a century—are a
collaborative project of the Greek Archaeological Service, 39th
Ephoreia in Tripolis, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of
Archaeology and Anthropology, and the University of Arizona operating
under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Quintus Aurelius Orcus
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