Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project
Answering questions about the origins of Greek cult and Greek athletics are at the heart of the agenda of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project. Since 2004 the project has been working at the site of the Sanctuary of Zeus and since 2006 excavation has been underway. The project, co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the University of Arizona and the Greek Archaeological Service under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, has finished seven very productive years in the field. Beginning in Summer 2011 during the first of two study seasons, members of the excavation team will re-examine the recently excavated evidence from the ash altar of Zeus at the southern peak of Mt. Lykaion, 4500 feet above sea level as well as the results of excavated evidence from the area of the lower sanctuary where there exists the only visible hippodrome in the Greek world as well as several other important sanctuary buildings.
Earlier excavations from the late 19th and early 20th centuries under the auspices of the Archaeological Society of Athens provided the first evidence of dedications from the mountain-top shrine. The ash altar was the area used to burn the dedications of animals and several ancient authors including Plato, Theophrastus and Pausanias mention human sacrifice at the site. How did these dedications begin and where did the cult of Zeus come from? How early were athletic contests (well known from the Classical period) associated with the cult? How does the Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion and its athletic program relate to the nearby cult of Zeus at Olympia?