As if raw athleticism weren’t enough, the ancient Olympics were the “total pagan entertainment package,” kicked off with an opening ceremony as memorable in its way as anything in 2012 London, says Tony Perrotet, author of The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games.
A “Woodstock of antiquity” followed, with nonexistent sanitation, pervasive prostitution, broken bones, animal sacrifice, and even doping. Also sports.
The historian spoke with National Geographic News before the 2004 Athens Olympics. His accounts remain illuminating today, as the Olympic torch—a modern invention, by the way—ignites the London games.
The Olympic Games were held every four years from 776 B.C. to A.D. 394, making them the longest-running recurring event in antiquity. What was the secret of the games’ longevity? Read more.
Summer 2012, and the world’s greatest athletes are gathering in London for the Olympics. In advance of the Games, a square mile of semiderelict land in East London’s Lower Lea Valley has been turned into a fully equipped Olympic Park. This has transformed a run-down industrial district into a leafy urban park containing modern amenities including an athletes’ village, basketball arena, and the Olympic stadium. British law decrees that archaeological assessments must be undertaken before such developments, so between 2007 and 2009, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) archaeologists set to work, digging into London’s past.
They excavated no fewer than 121 trenches, recovered more than 10,000 artifacts, and revealed evidence of at least 6,000 years of human activity—from the area’s first prehistoric hunters and farmers to World War II defense structures. In addition, they recorded all of the site’s still-standing historic buildings. Alongside this work, thousands of boreholes were sunk deep into the earth, revealing an environmental and geoarchaeological picture of the area over the past 12,000 years. Read more.