A major research partnership was announced in March 2007 between
The location of the island of Ithaca that is described in Homer’s Odyssey has been an enigma for nearly 3,000 years, but the radical new solution proposed by the authors in late 2005 is looking increasingly plausible as preliminary scientific findings appear to support the hypothesis. FUGRO’s sponsorship will now bring industry-scale geophysical techniques to the project, enabling the team to conduct a ‘full body scan’ of the 6-kilometre long isthmus on the Greek island of Kefallinia that is believed to contain a buried ancient marine connection.
ODYSSEUS UNBOUND (www.odysseus-unbound.org) is a project launched by Metapraxis chairman Robert Bittlestone, Cambridge classics Professor James Diggle and Edinburgh geology Professor John Underhill in 2005. Its aim is to test the proposition that the island of Ithaca described as the homeland of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey is a real place, but that it is not located as previously thought on the island now called Ithaki. Instead the authors propose that Homer’s Ithaca was the westernmost peninsula of the island of Kefallinia (Paliki). They believe that Paliki was formerly separated from the rest of Kefallinia by a narrow marine connection (“Strabo’s Channel”) that has now been infilled and turned into a land-locked isthmus by catastrophic rockfall and landslides triggered by earthquakes.
For this special project FUGRO intends to map the subsurface of the target area and in collaboration with the partners, to reconstruct how it may have looked 3,000 years ago. The main objective of the geophysical tests will be to obtain an accurate 3-dimensional image of the subsurface, and this in turn will necessitate an understanding of the processes that shaped the landscape prior to that period. The company anticipates using a variety of techniques including drilling and drill-hole diagnostics in order to determine the physical characteristics of the soil, rock and sediment. Precise measurements of the existing topography can be acquired using the latest mapping technology. Geophysical and survey techniques which are normally carried out from the air, land or water for oil or mineral exploration will be used to investigate the structure and composition of the sub-surface. Detailed stratigraphic, tectonic, sea level and fossil expertise will then be brought to bear on the collected data to build a model of the regional topography and how it has changed over time.
An important benefit of the research partnership is FUGRO’s willingness to sponsor a full-time geology PhD student on the project, a position which has now been awarded to a candidate at the University of Edinburgh under the NERC CASE scheme (the Natural Environment Research Council’s Co-operative Awards in Science & Engineering, http://www.nerc.ac.uk/using/schemes/case.asp). The sponsorship will enable a continuing programme of research to be supported instead of the periodic site visits and tests which have hitherto taken place.
As well as research into the expected route of Strabo’s Channel, the project team will benefit from FUGRO’s expertise in groundwater assessment. It is well established that Bronze Age habitation depended critically on the availability of fresh water supplies and so an important part of the project will be to establish the location of both the current and ancient water courses on the isthmus and peninsula. It is hoped that this work may also be of practical benefit to the islanders of Kefallinia and their own need for reliable local fresh water supplies.
Earthquakes are believed to have triggered the infilling of Strabo’s Channel and also the uplifting of the whole island, so a critical part of the research will be to establish the historic ‘dates and rates’ of such events. This work offers the possibility of improving our current level of understanding of the regularity, intensity and impact of earthquakes in the Ionian Islands over the last few thousand years. The results of this research will be communicated to the Greek authorities at local, regional and national level to enable them to take this into account as a part of their existing natural hazards awareness and damage limitation initiatives.
Archaeological research is not at present anticipated until the existence of Strabo’s Channel has been scientifically established or disproved. However both FUGRO and the Odysseus Unbound team look forward to the opportunity of the project focus moving into this important area in future years in conjunction with the Greek authorities if the results of the geological tests are supportive.