IIHSA Athens Presentation

Odysseus Unbound at Athens archaeology conference

IIHSA logo

Irish Institute for Hellenic Studies at Athens

10-11 January 2020
IIHSA Ionian Seas Conference Flyer
Click on the poster to read the conference abstracts (pdf file).

The geophysics techniques we’ve been using for the Odysseus Unbound project can give archaeologists essential clues to identify significant ancient sites.

In our presentation to the conference, Professors Peter Styles and George Apostolopoulos explained how our surveys on the Livadi Marsh have confirmed evidence of its suitability as a safe harbour in the Late Bronze Age. We believe the marsh is potentially the site of Odysseus’ harbour.  Our collaborator at the Ephorate, Eleni Papafloratou, was also in the audience.

The surveys also reveal signs of potential human settlement and activity in the area that makes it worthy of further archaeological investigation.

Geological changes

Sites such as ancient harbours can be hidden by geological changes particularly in the Ionian islands where earthquakes are so common.

“Geological context is an important aspect of archaeological research which isn’t always appreciated,” says Peter Styles. Conference convenor, Dr. Gert Jan van Wijngaarden, a Faculty Member in the Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology at the University of Amsterdam, agreed. “It brings a sense of pastness to the discussion, rather than just simply place,” he told the conference.

Use of geoscience to understand the palaeogeographic development of Livadi Marsh, Paliki: implications for the detection of an ancient harbour and anthropogenic settlement

Harbours and safe anchorages were critical facilities for seafaring nations in Mycenaean times for trade and defence. These were often simple sites on which to beach shallow-draft craft, but such sites are not common in tectonically active areas such as the Ionian Sea in general and Kefalonia in particular.

Identifying such sites is critically important to reveal the historical record of human activity pre-history.

Natural processes: tectonics, storm and tsunami events, currents, wave action and sedimentary depositional processes can frequently obscure paleo-harbour sites. Geophysical investigations including Electromagnetic, Ground Penetrating Radar, Resistivity and Seismic surveys with subsequent, targeted boreholes, can identify geological changes to the paleo-landscape in the Holocene.

We focus on the “Livadi Marsh” area bordering Livadi Bay at the north end of Kefalonia’s Argostoli Gulf and use geophysics supported by boreholes to calibrate and trace its paleogeographic development from a natural bay suitable as an ancient mooring to a contemporary environment of sediment-filled fertile land edged by marsh.

We identify complex interacting natural processes, including faults, tsunamigenic deposits and sedimentary deposition/erosion, which have impacted the changing palaeogeography. Additionally, we have identified signs of anthropogenic remains suggesting human settlement activity bordering the paleo-bay and potential indications of an ancient site worthy of future exploration by archaeologists.

Authors: Peter Styles1, George Apostolopoulos2, John Underhill3, John Crawshaw4, Olympia Vikatou5, Eleni Papafloratou6

1Applied & Environmental Geophysics Research Group, School of Geography, Geology & Environment, Keele University, UK, 2Applied Geophysics, School of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering, Technical University of Athens, Greece, 3Exploration Geoscience, School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure & Society, Heriot-Watt Univ., Ediburgh, UK, 4Oxford University, UK & Trustee of Odysseus Unbound Foundation, 5Ephorate of Antiquities of Aetoloacarnania & Lefkas, 6Ephorate of Antiquities of Kefalonia & Ithaki

Our research in the Livadi Marsh

Two views of Livadi Marsh
Livadi Marsh. (Left: looking SSW, Right: looking NE towards Kastelli)
Livadi Marsh FUGRO Airborne EM Survey Image
Electrical Resistivity Images of Livadi Bay and Marsh at various frequencies:
140kHz, 8.2kHz and 400Hz (0.4KHz) looking progressively deeper but with lower resolution.
Deep water

An airborne Electromagnetic survey carried out for the project by the geophysics company FUGRO shows an area of thick sediment below the surface of the marsh. Homer describes Odysseus’ harbour as “deep” (πολυβενθεος). Radiocarbon dating of material from boreholes drilled into the marsh suggests the water here was around 5m deep in the Late Bronze Age.

Drilling at Livadi harbour site
Borehole drilling rig in Livadi Marsh

The boreholes were drilled by FUGRO and by German scientists investigating tsunamis (Willershauser et al, 2015). They confirm that past tsunamis have altered the landscape of the marsh. Major tectonic events such as offshore earthquakes or localised landslides can trigger such tsunamis.

In 2018 we carried out our own Ground Penetrating Radar surveys to search for signs of tsunamis. Find out more in the video.

Human structures?

But most intriguing is the evidence from our Resistivity and Ground Penetrating Radar surveys in the area behind the marsh. The data shows anomalies that may be signs of human occupation. As this might be the remains of walls or buildings, the geoscience confirms the area is well worth further investigation by archaeologists.

Ionian Sea Conference Contributors 2020
Some of the academic contributors to the IIHSA Ionian Seas Conference, Athens, January 2020.

Well received

The conference provided a tremendous opportunity for our team to establish contacts with other scientists and archaeologists working on Kefalonia and to share ideas that will play into our research plans.

The presentation was warmly received by the international scientists and archaeologists at the conference. All were experts interested in an important area of Greece that has received relatively little study.

“The prehistoric and Bronze Age archaeology of the Ionian Sea is a subject area with a future,” says IIHSA Director Dr Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood.