It's not hard to see why Zeus was such a popular god with the ancient Greeks. He not only wielded a thunderbolt, but he also got into all sorts of trouble, including liaisons with humans and goddesses - much to the annoyance of his wife, Hera.
Greek gods were figures people could relate to, said archaeologist David Romano of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. And worshiping Zeus apparently involved some serious partying.
Working at the remote Mount Lykaion in Greece, Romano has found "evidence of a drinking party and possibly feasting" around a famous altar built on the 4,500-foot peak. These relics go back 3,200 years, about the time the earliest stone tablets started to refer to Zeus as the godfather of the gods.
"What's new is this mountaintop altar had cult activity that's continuous from the Mycenaean to the Hellenistic periods," Romano said, meaning between the 14th and second centuries B.C. At various depths, he and colleagues have unearthed silver coins and other Zeus icons, including a tiny bronze hand with a silver lightning bolt.
Romano will speak on his latest finds tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Penn Museum.
Mount Lykaion is mentioned in myth as the birthplace of Zeus, Romano said, and it appears no one lived on the desolate peak, though the view is spectacular. For hundreds of years, people apparently hiked there for religious ceremonies and feasts.
Last year, Romano announced that the site contained primitive pottery shards that go back to the end of the Neolithic or New Stone Age period, more than 5,000 years ago, before the first Greek-speaking people arrived. He suspects this material stems from some sort of religious or cult activity. But no one knows if the deity before Zeus was a party animal, too.
- Faye Flam