Skeletal remains 'confirm ancient Greeks engaged in human sacrifice'

May 2015

Greece’s culture ministry announced on Wednesday that a Greek-American team of researchers had discovered the skeleton of a teenager on the side of Mount Lykaion – known to be the site of animal sacrifices to Zeus.

“Much later, sources talk about human sacrifices taking place on Lykaion,” Anna Karapanagiotou, the head of the local archeological service, told a local municipal radio. “All this will be studied.”

Mount Lykaion was associated with human sacrifice by many ancient writers, including Plato, and while it may be too early to speculate on how the teenager died, the location adds a strong connection. “It nearly seems to good to be true,” said Dr Jan N Bremmer, professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, and an editor of The Strange World of Human Sacrifice.

Bremmer said that until now, most studies of human sacrifice in ancient Greece had concluded that it was probably fiction. While the ancient Israelites, Romans and Egyptians engaged in human sacrifice for religious purposes, 20th-century archaeologists had thought that the practice was not common among the Greeks.

Bremmer remained somewhat skeptical about the finding and questioned whether the location influenced the interpretation.

David Gilman Romano, professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona, who participated in the dig on Mount Lykaion said classical writers linked the remote peak with human sacrifice. According to legend, a young boy would be sacrificed with animals, before the human and animal meat was cooked and eaten. “Several ancient literary sources mention rumours that human sacrifice took place at the altar [of Zeus, located on the mountain’s southern peak] but up until a few weeks ago there has been no trace whatsoever of human bones discovered at the site,” said Romano.

“Whether it’s a sacrifice or not, this is a sacrificial altar ... so it’s not a place where you would bury an individual,” he said. “It’s not a cemetery.”

He noted that the fact that the upper part of the skull was missing, while the body was laid among two lines of stones on an east-west axis, with stone slabs covering the pelvis was also interesting.
Bremmer said scholars tend to be fascinated by the prospect of human sacrifice in ancient Greece because it seems like a contradiction.
“On the one hand there’s this picture of Greece as the cradle of civilisation, the birthplace of democracy, of philosophy, of rational thinking – but on the other hand we have these cruel cruel myths,” he said.

The mountaintop in the Peloponnese region is the earliest known site where Zeus was worshipped and even without the possible human sacrifice element it was a place of slaughter. From at least the 16th century BC until around 300BC, tens of thousands of animals were killed there in the god’s honour.

Human presence at the site goes back more than 5,000 years. There is no sign yet that the cult is as old as that but it is unclear why people should otherwise choose to settle on the barren, exposed summit.
Zeus was god of the sky and thunder, who later became the leader of the classical Greek pantheon.

Pottery found with the human remains dates them to the 11th century BC, right at the end of the Mycenaean era, whose heroes were immortalised in Greek myth and Homer’s epics, and several of whose palaces have been excavated.

So far, only about 7% of the altar on Lykaion has been excavated. “We have a number of years of future excavation to go,” Romano said. “We don’t know if we are going to find more human burials or not.”

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
Only one corpse?
Only one has been *found*, meaning it was buried and preserved well enough to find. And only 7 percent of the whole site has been excavated.

It's enough to give the historical sources at least some backing.



Forum Staff
Jun 2009
land of Califia
Not really surprising, but a fascinating discovery. Hopefully much more to come from the site.


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
In Italy there is who underlines something ...

With our modern perspective we tend to "hide" that in the past of our civilizations [Celtic cultures included] human sacrifice existed.

Usually we are surprised to discover this, but history doesn't follow social attitudes towards this or that phenomenon.

So far, the human sacrifice related to Ancient Greece was considered as something present in the myth and in the Greek literature. Without physical clues and evidences, not a few historians were reluctant to accept a real practice of human sacrifices [even if limited to some contexts] in that past.

This said, on the magazine FOCUS, Elisabetta Intini [Italian article Sacrifici umani anche per gli antichi Greci? -] underlines that such a discovery is not above suspicion: it's too perfect. The body of the victim has been found [so she reports] where there was the altar, not in a kind of sacred cemetery. Why to bury just one body and just there? There are no traditional indications about burying a sacrificial human victim in the nearby of the alter where he has been sacrificed.

In any case, classical sources mention traditional human sacrifices for the altar of Zeus, so that, even with the oddity of the circumstances in which the body has been buried [we should expect to find other human sacrificial victims buried in the nearby of other altars where the classical tales say there were human sacrifices as well], this is in agreement with the literature and the tales.
Sep 2014
History is always having to be rewritten where unmentionable things are discovered. In my youth everyone wondered what happened to the peaceful we know better. And the Minoans were another peaceful people until a collapsed temple was found and the skeletal remains told the grizzly tale of a teenage boy's last moments of life.

Humans when under stress are capable of anything....some cultures though are founded on anticipating the gods. It's like the archeological team looking into the chasm where the Spartans supposedly left their unfit one has found any infant bones.