At The Altar of Zeus: The Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


  • The Cults of Mt. Lykaion

    Dr. Madeleine Jost, Professor of Greek History, University of Paris X, Nanterre, France

    Two deities are honored on Mount Lykaion, Pan and Zeus, who are symbols of the National Arcadian identity. After taking account of the iconography of these two deities, we study the personality of Zeus Lykaios. We consider two opposed and complementary aspects successively: Zeus is a pan-Hellenic god who controls, as elsewhere in Greece, atmospheric phenomena; this civilized god is celebrated with pan-Hellenic games, the Lykaia. On the other hand, on Mount Lykaion Zeus is also a specific Arcadian god: he is honored with human sacrifices, which is a very exceptional event; to this savage character are linked legends of lycanthropia, the metamorphosis of a wolf. We examine the human sacrifices: the reality of these sacrifices is too present in the texts to be completely denied beforehand; the persistence of tradition and (why not?) the reality of human sacrifices is in perfect harmony with the savage character of Mount Lykaion's landscape. We also examine the traditions related to lycanthropia. In conclusion, it's the symbiosis of antithetic elements that makes the originality of the cults on Mont Lykaion.
  • The Area of Mt. Lykaion in Antiquity

    Anastasia Panagiotopoulou, Former Director, Archaeological Institute of Peloponnesian Studies, Tripolis, Arcadia

  • Planning the Arcadia Natural and Cultural Park in the area of Mt. Lykaion

    Dr. Costas Cassios, Principal Investigator, Landscape Ecology and Evaluation, Parrhasian Heritage Park

  • The Contribution of the local Community of the Mt. Lykaion Area in achieving the goals of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project

    Fotis Zois, Member of the Syllogos of Ano Karyes, Arcadia, Greece

  • Fastening the Archaeology of Mt. Lykaion to a Geologic Framework

    Dr. George Davis, Principal Investigator, Geological Survey, Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project and Parrhasian Heritage Park

  • The Nature and Significance of the Finds from Mt. Lykaion: Past and present

    Dr. Mary E. Voyatzis, Co-Director and Director of Finds, Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project

    The sanctuary of Zeus on Mt. Lykaion is not your typical Greek sanctuary, if there is such a thing. It covers an extensive area, with an upper and lower sanctuary. In the upper sanctuary, there is no temple (that we know of), no overwhelming number of votive offerings, no standard layout or design of the space. There are terrifying stories about activities there including ritual human sacrifice, transformation into a wolf, and death within a year of stepping into the temenos. The landscape is fantastic. And the textual references to the sanctuary are rich, complex and intriguing. One could say that the site is majestic, magical, and mysterious, if not mystifying. It has a number of striking parallels with the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia: both had a huge ash altar, evidence for an ancient cult of Zeus, and both held important athletic events in antiquity. The sanctuary of Zeus on Mt. Lykaion has also yielded some very interesting objects found in the past excavations at the site at the turn of the century. As David Romano, Anastasia Panagiotopoulou and I now turn our attention to the site once more, over 100 years later, I think it might be instructive to look at the small finds uncovered by Kourouniotes again, and to compare them to the finds we are now beginning to uncover at the site, as well as to consider what we might expect to find in future seasons, based on what we know from other sites, especially Olympia.
    In this paper, we review the objects found in the past, especially in the upper sanctuary. We begin with the ash altar, where Kourountiotes excavated five trenches of thin, dark, ashy soil, full of burnt bones, and stones. He found pottery sherds with dark paint of the 5th and 4th centuries, lamp fragments, roof tiles, and iron knife, bronze rings, a terracotta bird, a coin, and two small bronze tripods. Kourouniotes also excavated at several spots in the temenos, but found significant offerings in just a couple of areas. At the Eastern end of the temenos, about 10 meters from the column bases, he found two bronze figurines, bronze jewelry, a bronze plaque (from the base of a statue showing its feet), an iron object and considerable amounts of roof tiles. He also excavated in the area of the column stone bases, which he identified as a "pre-sacrificial area" where the animals were slaughtered and found more objects. Near the south base, he found two coins. Near the North base, he uncovered a number of objects including four bronze statuettes of Zeus, two of Hermes, a bronze runner, a bronze hand and foot, a bronze eagle, a bronze shin guard, etc., all found close to each other in an area less than two meters. Kourouniotes also excavated in the lower sanctuary in the areas of the hippodrome, stadium stoa, xenona, steps, fountain, bath, etc. and found many finds throughout this extensive area, including coins, 4th c. and later pottery, inscriptions, etc., phialai with black glaze of 4th-3rd c. BC date; bronze sheet with inscription, iron objects, roof tiles, and an iron spear.
    During the 2006 season at Mt. Lykaion, we opened up four trenches in the area of the hippodrome and stadium and found a large amount of pottery and tiles, the majority of which was ancient. We also found coins, iron knives, and black glazed Classical sherds. These objects are similar to those found before, but now we have important stratigraphical information to help us understand the site better. As we continue excavating in the lower sanctuary we hope to be better able to determine the chronology and function of the various structures, the history of use, and maybe find the sanctuary of Pan, which eluded Kourouniotes.
    In the summer of 2007 we plan to begin excavation in the upper sanctuary, and we anticipate finding more evidence of cult and ritual activity in the altar and temenos areas. If we find more early material, we may expect to get some pottery similar to that from Olympia, which shows "West Greek - Dark Age" parallels. Perhaps more tripods, (and possibly bronze or clay figurines will be found in the altar too. In the temenos, we may find more wonderful figurines like those we already have. More roof tiles will no doubt come to light too. It would be useful to determine what all the roof tiles belonged to: a small building in the temenos perhaps? The finds, their nature, their precise findspots, and their distribution at the site may help us better understand how the site functioned and evolved over time, and may help make the site a little less mysterious, but no less majestic.
  • New Excavations in the Hippodrome at Mt. Lykaion, 2006

    Dr. David Gilman Romano, Co-Director and Field Director, Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project & Director of the Parrhasian Heritage Park Initiative

  • Geophysical Prospection Research at Mt. Lykaion, Arcadia (2005)

    Dr. Apostolos Sarris, Principal Investigator, Geophysical Survey, Institute for Mediterranean Studies, Rethymnon

  • Arkadian National Park Planning Project: Guiding Principles in development, preservation and stewardship

    Mark Davison, Principal Investigator, Historical Landscapes, Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project & Parrhasian Heritage Park Initiative

  • Architectural Studies at Mt. Lykaion: Documentation and Discovery

    Pam Jordan, Assistant Field Director for Architectural Studies, Quinn Evans | Architects, Washington D.C.

    Guy Munsch, Architectural Conservation studies, B.S. Kutztown State University, M.A., Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania. Architectural Conservator, Department of the Treasury.

    Ximena Valle, Assistant Field Director for Architectural Studies, Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project

    The sustainability of architectural heritage is challenging when the component materials have been exposed to less than ideal environmental conditions over a long period of time. Key considerations are usually understanding the deterioration mechanisms that are contributing to the instability of the materials as well as the environmental factors that may be contributing to these mechanisms. In an archaeological context, the challenges become even more demanding when newly excavated architectural elements are exposed to environmental conditions that are drastically different from their sheltered unexcavated state. In addition to this drastic change in conditions is the probability that the historic materials will now be exposed to climatic circumstances that may be significantly different than the period of original construction.
    In order for Mt. Lykaion to reach its full potential as a cultural heritage park and for scientific research to continue, at least a portion of some architectural features that remain underground will need to be excavated and possibly remain exposed to the current environment. By evaluating soil conditions (current and historic), the material conditions of the exposed and unexposed building stone, and historic climatic data and water run-off patterns the longterm preservation of the site can be maintained while making as few interventions as possible upon the historic materials.
    A better understanding about the types of deteriorations mechanisms that will likely alter the condition of any newly exposed stone can be developed by examination of the exposed stone from the earlier (1898-1909) excavations versus newly exposed building stones from the 2005-09 excavations. There are also larger fields of comparison available by evaluating the conditions and data at several other nearby archaeological sites with extant architectural features: Olympia, the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Mt. Bassae and Megalopolis.
  • Topographical Studies at Mt. Lykaion: Remote Sensing and GIS

    Andrew Insua, Assistant Field Director for Topographical Survey, Ph.D. student, Graduate Group in Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, University of Pennsylvania