Since 2010, the staff of the Committee for the Conservation of the Monuments at Epidauros conducted excavations in the center of the sanctuary of Asklepios investigating the deeper layers of cult activity. After the end of the Committee’s mandate in 2015 a team of the University of Athens started research in the same place. The results of this work contribute greatly to our understanding of the early phases of the cult in the Epidaurian Asklepieion:
A small stoa of the 6th century B.C., presumably a primitive dormitory for the patients, followed by a bigger complex came to light under the Abaton. The sacred well, incorporated later in the Abaton, was in use in this early
period lying in front of the small stoa. Inside the ash altar, incorporated later in ‚Building E’, pottery of the late 7th century BC was found documenting an earlier origin of the cult than assumed up to now. Underneath the square room at the NW corner of the 4th century phase of ‚Building E’ the foundations of a similar predecessor dated to the 6th century B.C. came to light. The history of ‚Building E’ can be reconstructed as follows: At the beginning, the ash altar stood there on its own; sacrifice and ritual meals took place in the open space around it; during the 6th century a small shrine was built next to its north side in order to house the imaginary dining of the god (theoxenia); in the 5th century the altar was enclosed by two stoas at its north and east side protecting worshippers
during the ritual meal and a wall at its south side; the shrine was incorporated at the west end of the north stoa. In the 4th century it was renovated and a two storey stoa was added at the south side of the complex.
In the area between ‚Building E’ and the Tholos many ditches full of leftovers of ritual meals and small offerings testify to the long period of exercising blood sacrifice and ritual meal at the ash altar of ‚Building E’. After the 4th century BC this activity was transferred to the altar in front of the classical temple of Asklepios and the Banquet Hall south of ‚Building E’.
The by many scholars so-called ‚altar of Apollon’ west of ‚Building E’ has been definitely proved to be an altar of Asklepios in his chthonic substance. Its first, archaic phase is a typical ground altar with a gap in its center for
bloodless offerings. In its second phase, the gap was sealed with a slab inscribed with the name of Asklepios’ wife Epione. In this way, the altar, which now took the form of a hollow ceremonial altar, was forever consecrated to the divine couple. Fragments of the parapet of this altar were found in its foundations dating it to the 4th century BC. The altar looks to the West and is axially bound to the Tholos. This means that the archaic chthonic altar was bound to a cult structure which preceded the Tholos and was replaced by it. The excavation of a large pyre in front of the Tholos, at a level of 1,65 m beneath the levelling course of the building, seems to justify this assumption. Radiocarbon dating has shown that the end of activity at the pyre happened between 411 and 361 B.C., which is around the time the building of the Tholos began. These finds make it clear that the Tholos-Thymele was a monumentalisation of a former cult place of chthonic Asklepios, and justify its designation as a cenotaph, in which the hero-god dwelt and received the bloodless sacrifice offered formerly on the archaic ground altar. The excavation at the pyre is still in progress. Further campaigns will shed more light on the early phases of cult at this central part of the Asklepieion.