The site of Olympia was inhabited several times in prehistory. The first people in the area
built a large tumulus surrounded by a circuit enclosure (perivolos), made of large
This was thought to be a monument of Mycenean origins, dedicated to the Mycenean hero
Pelops, but nowadays
archaeologists believe that it dates from the late third millennium BC. We do not know where
its builders dwelt or why they abandoned the site. Later on (ca.
We can only be sure that Olympia became a religious center during the late Mucenean period.
By this time and on, many people visited the site, dedicating
a number of clay and bronze figurines to its deitie(s). The excavators found these votive
offerings in an extensive black deposit of ash, dated to the 12-8th centuries BC. Among
the finds were late Mycenean vases, animal figurines (bulls and horses), two-horse chariots and charioteers,
warriors with spear, shield and helmet, and tripod cauldrons, a find typically used as
prize for winners. The offerings were dumped in a layer levelled
off during the cleansing and the reorganization of the site during the early 8th century BC.
It is not clear if these offerings are all related to the
cult of Zeus. Many of these offerings cannot be attributed
to particular deities. Judging from them, it seems probable that the
cult of Zeus was introduced to Olympia at a point after the 12th century BC.