Zeus born here - but he wasn't the first

Those who have beheld the stunning vista from remote Mount Lykaion – said to be the birthplace of Zeus – can see why the ancient Greeks picked it as a religious site.

Turns out they may not have been the first.

Amid the ashes of this mountaintop altar to the Greek god of thunder, scholars have discovered pottery from 3,000 B.C. – 1,000 years before the worship of Zeus began.

At 4,500 feet above sea level, Mount Lykaion may also have been used as a lookout post, said the University of Pennsylvania’s David Gilman Romano, one of the excavators. But the wealth of pottery suggests some sort of continued religious activity, starting long before Greek-speaking people moved to the region about 2,000 B.C., he said.

The dig, a joint effort by scholars from Greece, Penn and the University of Arizona, revealed hundreds of fragments last summer, ranging in age from 3,000 B.C. to 1,200 B.C. Previously, archaeologists had found artifacts at the altar dating only to 700 B.C.

The team also found a rock crystal seal with the image of a bull, likely brought from the island of Crete – also described as the birthplace of Zeus in some myths.

The phenomenon of religious sites’ being taken over by other religions is as old as humankind. And atop Mount Lykaion, it happened yet again after Zeus fell out of fashion.

The site is now home to a Greek Orthodox church.


David Gilman Romano is giving a public lecture about the new finds on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where he is a senior research scientist.


“Zeus born here – but he wasn’t the first,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, January 28, 2008.