Odysseus Unbound - The Search for Homer’s Ithaca


Sep 1 2008

Geophysical surveys support quest for Homer’s Ithaca

  • Latest geoscientific technologies are used to investigate Europe’s earliest enigma
  • Land, sea and airborne methods penetrate deep below surface of the key valley
  • Helicopter-based scan reveals no limestone bedrock for 90 metres underground
  • Marine tests pinpoint outflow of ancient channel identified by geographer Strabo
  • Public lecture to be held at the Geological Society, London on October 2 2008
  • UK Channel 4 TV News bulletin broadcast on Saturday September 6 at 18:55

London and The Hague, September 1 2008. Detailed results and photographs from the first year of sponsorship by Fugro of the Odysseus Unbound project are released today and published in Geoscientist, the monthly journal of the Geological Society of London. A carefully designed combination of land, sea and airborne techniques has provided a wealth of new data about the Thinia isthmus on the Greek island of Kefalonia that separates its western peninsula from the rest of the island.

The new research shows that this 6 kilometre long and up to 2 kilometre wide isthmus contains no solid limestone bedrock down to at least 90 metres below today’s surface. The fill is loose material, some of which has originated through catastrophic rockfall from the earthquake-prone mountain range to the east, with the rest consisting of softer marl rock.

2,000 years ago the Greek geographer Strabo wrote of Kefalonia “Where the island is narrowest it forms an isthmus so low-lying that it is often submerged from sea to sea”. This new evidence strengthens the case that Strabo’s description was correct at the time and that the western peninsula of Kefalonia, today called Paliki, was often separated from the rest of Kefalonia by the sea at the Thinia isthmus.

The latest results also lend support to the proposal put forward by Robert Bittlestone in 2003 and described in the Cambridge University Press book Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca, that Homer’s description of Ithaca in the Odyssey as the furthest out to sea and most western of the Ionian Islands referred to today’s peninsula of Paliki, at that time a separate island cut off by ‘Strabo’s Channel’.

In March 2007 the global geotechnical, survey and geoscientific service company FUGRO announced its sponsorship of the Odysseus Unbound project. This provides the project team with industry-scale geoscientific resources and includes the sponsorship of a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh as part of the Natural Environment Research Council CASE scheme.

Geoscience leader Professor John Underhill of the University of Edinburgh comments on the latest results from this cooperation: “Fugro’s specialist air, sea and land-based divisions from around the world have worked together to collect an unprecedented amount of new data in a quest to image the sub-surface beneath the Thinia isthmus. The data collection was very successful and the interpretation of the results has now provided us with some remarkable new evidence and significant new geoscientific insights for the theory being tested."

Professor James Diggle of Cambridge University, who leads the classical research side of the Odysseus Unbound project, comments on the implications of these new findings for our understanding of Strabo’s Geography and Homer’s Odyssey: “If we can demonstrate the historical existence of ‘Strabo’s Channel’ it will be impossible to resist the conclusion that Paliki was Homer’s Ithaca - for Paliki, as a separate island, is the only candidate that satisfies every one of Homer’s geographical criteria. So we are on the way to demonstrating that Homer’s geography was no less reliable than Strabo’s, and that the landscape of Paliki was the true location of Homer’s Odyssey.”

The UK Channel 4 TV News programme broadcast a 5 minute bulletin about the research in Kefalonia on Saturday 6 September at 18:55. Click below for a link to the broadcast.

Full text of this Research Update

Full text of "Testing Classical Enigmas" [ low-resolution PDF] [high-resolution PDF]

Watch the Channel 4 TV news broadcast (6min 22Mb MP4)