There are certainly some gruesome legends that have come forth out of the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Many of these were written about Mount Lykaion. This peak was, based on those legends, where one of the first Greeks, Lyacon, attempted to trick the all powerful Zeus by feeding the god a sacrifice that had been spoiled with the flesh of a human. As a punishment, Lyacaon was either killed or turned into a wolf.
According to ancient writers, the altar that included a firepit at the top of the mountain, would see sacrifices not only of livestock, as was usually the case, but also of people. Sometimes a human boy would be given as an offering to Zeus in his honor, or eaten in the hopes of transformation. Based on the myths, legends and historical facts from the writing of the time, it is difficult to truly determine whether such sacrifices were historical fact, or urban legends.
Archaeologists may have discovered the answer to this query while excavating the altar on Mount Lyakaion. During excavation, the dig resulted in the discovery of a 3,000-year-old skeleton of a young man that was found curled up in the ashes of the altar, indicating that such sacrifices may actually be a horrible truth.
Ancient Greek Skeleton May Be Remains of Human Sacrifice to Zeus https://t.co/ZsMvY8z2G0
— sciencenewsfacts (@sciencenewsfact) August 12, 2016
The researchers involved in the dig have yet to publish results in a journal, meaning they have yet to present evidence that will be evaluated by experts who were not affiliated with the dig. In tying the remains to human sacrifice, upon publication it is likely that colleagues will attempt to debunk their findings and claims.
However, Joannis Mylonopoulos of Columbia University, who was not involved in the excavation, does believe that the findings could be fascinating and “something special,” as The Washington Post shares.
“If the preliminary date of the burial (11th century B.C.) suggested by the excavators is correct, then this is extremely significant.”
These latest findings are not the first that have been discovered in relation to human sacrifice among the Greeks of the ancient world. Other archaeologists have already found skeletons that indicate such rituals took place. In this recent discovery, the remains of the individual lack a head, which Mylonopoulos says is a clue that the death of the young man was in fact due to some ritual.
Ancient Greek human sacrifice evidence in Mount Lykaion skeleton https://t.co/bITKMANvWc
— Strange Remains (@StrangeRemains) August 12, 2016
The intriguing question is as to why the youth, if sacrificed to Zeus, was then buried on the spot of sacrifice. This in itself is a difficult question for experts on the legends and practices of ancient Greeks to answer. Excavator David Gilman Romano, who is professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona, spoke with the Associated Press about this mystery.
“Whether it’s a sacrifice or not, this is a sacrificial altar… so it’s not a place where you would bury an individual. It’s not a cemetery”
Mylonopoulos also agrees with this mysterious burial and causes him to suspect that the body may be from a later period and perhaps was placed there after the use of the altar for animal sacrifices had passed. There is also a possibility that the youth is in fact the remains of a ritual sacrifice from 3,000 years ago and that the practice of burying the body at the place of sacrifice is simply a “honorific practice” that researchers have not been familiar with. He shares his views on the mysterious burial.
“If there are indeed finds from this period from within the rather careless tomb, then the most convincing interpretation at this stage would be that we are indeed dealing with a human sacrifice and that the deceased was buried within the ash altar as a form of honor”
Romano and his colleagues will continue to study the remains and the surroundings for more clues. They will also carry on excavations around the rest of the alter. As the publication shares, more than 90 percent of the altar remains untouched and unaccounted for. The Associated Press relays Romano’s words.
“We have a number of years of future excavation to go. We don’t know if we are going to find more human burials or not.”
[Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images]