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Chilling mountaintop find may confirm dark Greek legend

A 3,000-year-old skeleton of a teenager was found in an altar at the top of Mount Lykaion.Greek Culture Ministry via associated press

ATHENS — At the top of a mountain once worshipped as the birthplace of the god Zeus, archeologists have made a sinister discovery that might corroborate one of the darkest legends of antiquity.

Excavations this summer on Mount Lykaion uncovered the 3,000-year-old skeleton
of a teenager amid a mound of ashes built up over a millennium from sacrificed animals.

Greece’s Culture Ministry said Wednesday that the skeleton, probably of an adolescent boy, was found in the heart of the 100-foot ash altar.

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Excavators say it’s too early to speculate on the nature of the teenager’s death but the discovery is remarkable because the remote Mount Lykaion was for centuries associated with the most nefarious of Greek cults: Ancient writers — including Plato — linked it with human sacrifice to Zeus, a practice that has very rarely been confirmed by archeologists anywhere in the Greek world and never on mainland Greece.


According to legend, a boy was sacrificed with the animals and all the meat was cooked and eaten together. Whoever ate the human part would become a wolf for nine years.

‘‘Whether it’s a sacrifice or not, this is a sacrificial altar,’’ said excavator David Gilman Romano, professor of Greek archeology at the University of Arizona.

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The mountaintop in the Peloponnese region is the earliest known site where Zeus was worshipped.