Micromorphological contributions to the study of ritual behavior at the ash altar to Zeus on Mt. Lykaion, Greece

Susan M. Mentzer, David Gilman Romano, Mary E. Voyatzis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The ash altar to Zeus, located on a peak of Mt. Lykaion (Greece), consists of a thick, anthropogenic deposit that formed as a result of repeated deposition of burnt offerings. Excavations conducted from 2007 to 2010 uncovered evidence of a long history of use of the mountain summit as a purely ritual locality. Micromorphological analyses of sediment from the southern area of the altar confirm that a majority of the sedimentary components are microscopic artifacts sourced from combustion activities. The basal units comprise the remnants of a thin soil which contains inclusions of charcoal, burned bone, and fat-derived char and is associated with Mycenaean (sixteenth–twelfth centuries BC) materials. Ritual burning activities in the southern area peaked in the Protogeometric through Classical periods (tenth–fourth centuries BC), with intensive burning associated with the practice of thysia (ritual sacrifice) yielding a deposit in which the <2 mm particle size fraction is composed almost entirely of burned bone, wood ashes, charcoal, and other charred materials. Both the basal and uppermost portions of the sequence were impacted by decalcification, which resulted in the dissolution of ashes and surficial weathering of rock fragments. Postdepositional bioturbation also contributed to the observed distribution of archaeological materials within the feature. The geoarchaeological analyses suggest that similar types of burning activities were conducted in Mycenaean and later times. This finding is relevant to hypothesized continuity of cult between the Bronze and Iron Ages and makes Mt. Lykaion one of the very few sites in the entire Greek world where ritual continuity can be demonstrated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1017-1043
Number of pages27
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Ash
  • Bioturbation
  • Charcoal
  • Combustion
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Thysia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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