Odysseus Unbound - The Search for Homer’s Ithaca

News

2 February 2017

Odysseus Unbound Motorbike Tour

Several of the places described in Odysseus Unbound such as Phorcys Bay, Eumaios’ Pigfarm, Raven’s Rock and Kastelli can be seen in a series of videos made by Ken Gibson, a Canadian self-confessed “motorcycle enthusiast and Greek history nut” who visited in 2016. Ken is an enthusiastic supporter and he was given a guided tour by Project Coordinator John Crawshaw. Click on the image below to see his videos.

25 Sept 2016

Find us on Facebook and YouTube

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You can now follow the activities of the Odysseus Unbound team on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/OdysseusUnbound and on our YouTube channel. The project is entering an exciting new phase so we’ll be posting regular updates and videos as we move forward. We look forward to reading your comments. Please ‘Like’ us on Facebook, share the page with your friends and subscribe to the YouTube channel to catch all our new videos.

13 Jun 2016

Heriot-Watt Professor receives top Geology Award

Lyell Medal Presentation Professor John Underhill and Professor David Manning, Geological Society President.

Professor John Underhill, Chair of Exploration Geoscience in the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society (EGIS) at Heriot-Watt, has been presented with the Lyell Medal by the Geological Society.

Named after Sir Charles Lyell, the Medal was first awarded in 1876 and is their top geological award. It is given to someone who has made a significant contribution to the science by means of a substantial body of research. Workers in both 'pure' and 'applied' aspects of the geological sciences are eligible but it is normally given for contributions to structural, sedimentological and stratigraphic basin studies. Professor Underhill is the only University staff member to win the Medal in its 140 year history.

Read the full article on the Heriot-Watt website.

16 Sep 2015

Onshore Drilling Outcomes in Kefalonia

2011-2014 Research Conclusions & Summary

Thinia Valley Panorama Thinia valley panorama looking east from Paliki

Project Background

The objective of this phase of geoscientific research has been to test the proposition that the island of Ithaca may have been accurately described in Homer’s Odyssey as the furthest west of a group of four islands off the western coast of Greece, facing dusk, the open sea and being of low elevation. If this isthmus (now called the Thinia valley) was once submerged, then the western peninsula of Kefalonia (now called Paliki) would have been a free-standing island in its own right, thereby fitting Homer’s description accurately.

Over the last few years, a number of land, sea and airborne geoscientific techniques have been used to investigate the Thinia isthmus and surrounding areas with the aim of determining the nature of the underlying geology of the Thinia valley. These have included: helicopter-mounted electromagnetic and LiDAR surveys, ground-based resistivity and seismic refraction surveys, gravity surveys, shallow marine seismic reflection surveys, sidescan sonar, sub-bottom profiling and bathymetry.

Drilling rig on site Drilling rig on site in the Livadi Marsh area.

During 2010-11, Fugro, advised by Professor Underhill, undertook a programme of land-based shallow (less than 105 metres in depth) drilling and rock coring using a small mobile rig.

This drilling program was informed by the results of the earlier geophysical studies and geological field mapping. The equipment used enabled continuous rock-cores to be obtained at 17 drilling locations in Kefalonia, mainly in the Thinia valley. The continuous nature of the cores provides an extensive and unprecedented calibration of the subterranean geology in the Thinia valley and other pertinent locations. Almost 700 metres of core samples were collected and these were analyzed at Fugro’s geo-specialist labs in North Wales in 2011-12. The multiple research surveys and core samples were analyzed in 2011-13 by Dr Kirsten Hunter, PhD, University of Edinburgh, under the supervision of Professor Underhill. The results provide a new-found basis for understanding the age, nature and post-depositional deformation history of the sediments that lie buried beneath the modern valley and in other pertinent locations.

Conclusions

The main outcomes of the geoscientific studies and implications for the theory being tested are:

  • The geology of the Thinia valley is substantially more complex than is first evident from surface exposures alone. It is now clear that co-seismic geo-tectonic movements had a more significant impact than might initially have appeared to be the case.
Drilling in the Thinia Valley
An oblique aerial view of the Thinia Valley from the SW. The image illustrates the low lying nature of the ground that separates the Paliki peninsula from the main body of the island of Kefalonia. If this valley were submerged, Paliki would have formed a western island.
Drilling at north channel exit near Zola.
  • Near the northern end of the potential channel, inland of the village of Zola, evidence of a former marine beach was identified underneath valley fill consisting of rockfall debris at about sea level.
  • The sedimentary evidence shows that the Thinia valley was inundated by marine waters more recently than is suggested by the surface geology. The new results confirm the existence of an ancient marine channel of Quaternary age (c. 400,000 years BP). This is a significant new finding.
  • The existing valley fill is not simply the result of landslip and slope collapse. The original hypothesis of landslides and rockfall filling a valley remains an important component of the valley fill but only partially explains the absence of the marine channel today.
  • At the southern end of the valley, there is new evidence for a large rotational, translational slump ending in an elevated contractional toe-thrust complex that could have blocked the channel course and elevated the channel floor and marine fossils significantly above sea level.
Rotational Slump Diagrams Schematic diagrams illustrating the processes and products of rotational slumping. The slip occurs along a rotational failure surface sited in an easy slip horizon, which in the case of the Thinia Valey is along steep westerly-dipping bedding planes. The central part of the rotation is translated and the toe of the slip is characterized by reverse (thrust) faulting.
  • An unusual feature in the Thinia valley is an elevated flat lakebed, named Lake Katachori, which was created by geotectonic movements and has subsequently dried out. It caps the deformed strata, and it is the rotational collapse and rockfall associated with this which set up the closed drainage system that inhibited outflow and created the lake itself. In origin this feature is strikingly similar to Quake Lake in southwestern Montana, USA, which was formed as a result of seismic activity in 1959.
Former lakebed at Lake Katachori and Quake Lake, Montana
The flat plain that characterizes the Thinia Valley represents a former (palaeo) lake bed (Lake Katachori) that was instigated by the rotational slump having blocked upland drainage and ponded headwaters to form a lake.
Quake Lake, Montana: the rotational slide blocked outflow from the rivers that drained the valley to set up a lake behind it. A similar mechanism is envisaged for the formation of Lake Katachori in Thinia. Photos © Blox Images, Chicago.1
  • In the Livadi Marsh, evidence was found of ancient marine sediments and beach deposits indicating the potential for an ancient harbour to have existed at the foot of Kastelli Hill.
Livadi Harbour site from Kastelli Hill and Core from Livadi harbour borehole
Livadi harbour site beside Kastelli Hill.
Core from Livadi harbour borehole: the cored section shows breccias and conglomerates found at the unconformity at the base of the Holocene section.

Summary

The geological research sponsored by Fugro and directed by Professor John Underhill has been completed safely, successfully and with no harm to the environment. The results of the geoscientific campaign unveiled a complex geo-tectonic and geological landscape beneath the Thinia valley. It has refuted the simple side-wall collapse and in-fill hypothesis and has raised another possibility, that of a massive rotational slump, leading to a toe-thrust and elevation of an ancient marine channel.

The critical question then becomes one of timing: could this rotational slump have occurred recently (in the last ~3,100 years) and therefore be responsible for in-filling and displacement of a Mycenaean age marine channel?

Other promising findings include the discovery of ancient beach deposits buried under land-slip infill at the northern end of the Thinia valley and evidence of an ancient marine harbour that reached the foot of Kastelli Hill and that contained radiocarbon-datable samples contemporaneous with the time of Odysseus. An anomalous late-period lakebed, now dried out, is another intriguing finding.

In this context, it is worth noting that Mycenaean-era sites have been previously identified on both the western peninsula (called Paliki) and the remaining part of the island of Kefalonia, confirming that this land is of considerable historical and archaeological interest dating to the period in question.

Next Steps

The proposed next steps in the geological research are to conduct a field-based mapping assessment of the southern exit to investigate whether there is evidence for a tilted and elevated channel rising up the eastern sides of the Gulf of Argostoli.

In addition, we will seek to undertake a marine-based shallow coring at the northern end of the Gulf of Argostoli in order to establish a date profile for the in-fill of a former marine channel identified on the seismic data and further investigate the nature of its sedimentary in-fill. This will provide a baseline from which it should be possible to describe how and when this valley has evolved and been in-filled. It is hoped that this research, postponed from 2012, can be accomplished in 2016, but the timing will depend on funding and local and national regulatory approvals and permits being obtained.

Other preliminary conceptual work will be developed in relation to Kastelli Hill, Livadi Harbour and other sites on the Paliki peninsula in an effort to define future parameters for possible sub-surface investigation. Next steps could involve discussion with local and national authorities on the possibility of non-intrusive sub-soil scanning of promising sites identified in the course of the geological exploration.

Read the full text of Onshore Drilling Outcomes in Kefalonia – 2011-2014 Research Report.

Acknowledgements

This acknowledges the very significant contribution of Dr Kirsten Hunter to the understanding of the underlying geology of the Thinia valley and adjacent sites on Kefalonia through the work described in her PhD thesis titled “Evaluating the geological, geomorphic and geophysical evidence for the re-location of Odysseus’ homeland, Ancient Ithaca”.

The project research team would also like to acknowledge the enormous contributions made by the geo-scientific company Fugro in sponsoring and carrying out the extensive phases of research, under the direction of Professor Underhill, that have led to these findings.

The views expressed in this update, however, represent the opinions of the OU project team, and may or may not coincide with Dr Hunter’s and/or Fugro’s views in every instance.

For geological inquiries:
Professor John Underhill
Past-President - European Association of Geoscientists & Engineers (EAGE)
Chair of Stratigraphy & Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE)
Professor of Exploration Geoscience
Centre for Exploration Geoscience,
School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure & Society,
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Campus,
Riccarton, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH14 4AS;
Email: J.R.Underhill@hw.ac.uk

For Homeric contextual inquiries:
Professor James Diggle
Emeritus Professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge, & Fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge
Email: jd10000@cam.ac.uk

For general inquiries

odysseus.unbound.info@gmail.com

John Crawshaw, OU Project Coordinator
Email: odysseus.unbound.info@gmail.com

Footnotes

  1. Image credits:
    Unless otherwise specified, images shown are the copyright of the Odysseus Unbound project.
    Black & white view of Quake Lake: Blox Images, Chicago
    Colour image of Quake Lake: Blox Images, Chicago

17 Aug 2015

Robert Bittlestone (1952-2015)

Robert Bittlestone

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Robert Bittlestone, leading author of ‘Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca’ and founder of the ‘Odysseus Unbound‘ (OU) project. Robert never fully recovered from the loss of his wonderful wife Jean in 2011 and he died at home on 4 May 2015. He will be hugely missed by his family, friends, colleagues and the wider OU network, and his boundless enthusiasm will remain a constant inspiration.

If desired, donations in Robert’s memory can be made to Brain Tumour Research at: www.justgiving.com/RobertBittlestone

A new Steering Committee has been established to carry the ‘Odysseus Unbound’ project forward and build on Robert’s legacy; to continue the geoscientific test of the theory that modern-day Paliki equates with ancient Ithaca as depicted in Homer’s Odyssey, and to bring the project to a successful conclusion. Further updates will be published on this website in the near future, including a summary of the geoscientific findings of the project to date.