Web Extra Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Even closer to finding Ithaca
Researchers are several steps closer to finding Homer's Ithaca, thanks to new results released today from geologic tests that support the hypothesis that the ancient kingdom of Ithaca may in fact be on western Kefalonia, not the modern-day Greek island of Ithaki, as has been suggested for several centuries, and is reported this month in Geotimes.
The hypothesis put forth by businessman Robert Bittlestone, classicist
James Diggle and geologist John Underhill in their 2005 book Odysseus
Unbound suggests that a channel once separated Kefalonia
from its western peninsula, called Paliki, creating two separate islands.
Paliki is Ithaca, as described in the Bronze Age 3,200 years ago, according
to the hypothesis.
The problem is that today, the "channel" is actually a shallow valley that rises to 180 meters above sea level. It is hard to fathom a situation in which geologic forces could have uplifted the land that much in just three millennia. And in fact, though earthquakes have uplifted the land several meters, tectonic forces cannot account for valley's elevation, says Underhill, of the University of Edinburgh. Instead, the researchers suggest that the valley filled in with rubble from landslides and debris flows caused by catastrophic rockfalls and earthquakes.
Thus far, the results of all of the geologic, geomorphic and geophysical tests that Underhill and his international team have undertaken have been "very encouraging" for the hypothesis, Underhill says.
mapping the surface geology and running gravity surveys to model the subsurface
the results of which showed that landslides and rockfalls "are
dominant processes in the area," Underhill says in October
2006, the team drilled a borehole 122 meters deep into the valley. At
that depth, 15 meters below present-day sea level, the team still did
not hit bedrock, which would have nullified the infill hypothesis immediately.
But the question remained if the borehole sediments were young enough
to account for the infill. If they were 5,000 years old or older, the
hypothesis would also be nullified.
Previous results have also confirmed the possibility that this valley was once a channel: Data acquired during an undersea seismic survey have shown what looks to be a buried channel exactly where it would be expected, and analysis of sea level rise and fall in the region matches the timing of valley's submergence and relative uplift.
Researchers dated microscopic
marine fossils called Emiliania huxleyi that were recovered within
young reworked sediments in upper 40 meters of the borehole. The find
further supports the infill hypothesis. Image is courtesy of the Bulgarian
Aacademy of Sciences.
"You know, I keep expecting to refute this theory, but at every turn the results come back positive," Underhill says. "So then it's onto the next geologic test." Eventually though, given the sheer volume of the circumstantial evidence that just keeps adding up, the Ithaca of Odysseus as described in Homer's epic poem the Odyssey may indeed be considered found, according to Underhill and the team.