Excavating at the Birthplace of Zeus*
David Gilman Romano http://davidgilmanromano.org Director Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project Archaeological Mapping Lab & Mary E. Voyatzis http://anthropology.arizona.edu/users/mev Director Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project University of Arizona
In the 3rd century BCE, the Greek poet Callimachus wrote a Hymn to Zeus asking the ancient and most powerful Greek god whether he was born in Arcadia on Mt. Lykaion or in Crete on Mt. Ida.
My soul is all in doubt, since debated is his birth. O Zeus, some say that you were born on the hills of Ida; others, O Zeus, say in Arcadia; did these or those, O Father lie? “Cretans are ever liars.”
These two traditions relating to the birthplace of Zeus were clearly known in antiquity and have been transmitted to the modern day. It was one of the first matters that the village leaders in Ano Karyes brought to our attention when we arrived there in 2003 to initiate a new excavation and survey project at the nearby Sanctuary of Zeus. Situated high on the eastern slopes of Mt. Lykaion, Ano Karyes, with a winter population of 22, would become our base of operations, and the village leaders representing the Cultural Society of Ano Karyes would become our friends and collaborators in this endeavor. Could we prove that Zeus was born on Mt. Lykaion?
Village leaders also retold the ancient reference by Pliny, a 1st century CE author, who wrote that the athletic festival at Mt. Lykaion, in honor of Zeus, was older than the games at Olympia. Could we find archaeological evidence to support this ancient reference? There was no doubt that the inhabitants of the local village were very proud of their heritage, and that we had our work cut out for us. Although our scientific objectives for the project were considerably different from the interests of the local people, little did we know that within only a few years we would have results that the village, as well as the archaeological community, would find relevant and intriguing. This visit was not my first to Ano Karyes or to the Sanctuary of Zeus. In 1996 I organized a computerized architectural and topographic survey project there with a small group of students from Penn, and succeeded in creating the first precise map of the important sanctuary. Earlier, in 1978, I carried out some of my Ph.D. dissertation work at Mt. Lykaion and was impressed with the beauty and majesty of the site. From that moment, it was my sincere hope to return one day to do fieldwork and excavation.Continue Reading
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Dr. David Gilman Romano.