This table was used to hold sacrificial offerings. It is restored; the darker, patterned stone is the original, and dates from c. 300 BCE, slightly later than the Archaic Period. One tray held offerings for Apollo and Esklepios, and the other for Zeus. Alternately, sacrificed offerings, especially animals, could be burned over an altar. An archeologost of Ancient Greece, Nicolas Coldstream, writes a relevant description of the temple of Dreros in Crete: “Sacrifices were burnt in a central rectangular hearth, lined with stone slabs; the smoke was perhaps released through a skylight or lantern resting on two columns, of which one stone base survives. Against the back wall, at the right-hand corner, a stone bench served to display the votives. Beside the bench stood an altar, supported on orthostat slabs; in its wreckage were found a large number of goats’ horns [and] two sacrificial knives.” (Coldstream, 280)
Coldstream also wrote, “Wherever temples were built, altars precede them.” (Coldstream, 321) Before 700 BCE, cults were practiced indoors in houses, and palaces, and outdoors by trees and pillars, in caves, and on peaks. Only later was the freestanding, independent Greek temple built. In the Dark Ages, sacrifice was held on raised stone altars in open air. (317) For all these differences, the basic procedure was the same: animals were led to the altar, slaughtered, and burnt, partially or fully.
We can see that the process of ritual sacrifice remained similar over hundreds of years. Whether an open-air altar or one in a temple, or even a table like the one above, the process of laying the sacrifice out and sending it the gods stayed unchanged. The archeologist Henri Hubert wrote much about how we can understand sacrifice on an ideological level. “Through this act of destruction the essential action of the sacrifice was accomplished. The victim was separated definitively from the profane world; it was consecrated, it was sacrificed...it was reborn sacred,” he wrote. “If the on the one hand the spirit was released…the body of the animal on the other hand remained visible and tangible…In short, the sacrificed victim resembled the dead whose souls dwelt at one and the same time in the other world and in the corpse…The animal was attributed entirely to the sacred world, attributed entirely to the profane world, or shared between the two.” (Hubert, 35) At the altar, the animal became connected with the gods and it also became food.