Ithaca? Photo by Jo Salmon.
As Γλαυκôπις pointed out last weekend Robert Bittlestone, James Diggle and John Underhill are looking for Ithaca, home of Odysseus and think they’ve found it. A lot of people thought it’s already be found, there’s an island called Ithaki. However, they argue that the geography doesn’t match Homer’s description. Ithaca is described in the Odyssey:
I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, world-famed
For stratagems: my name has reached the heavens.
Bright Ithaca is my home: it has a mountain,
Leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible.
Around are many islands, close to each other,
Doulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthos.
Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea
Towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun.
Odyssey 9, 19–26 (trans. James Diggle)
This describes Ithaca as a low island and to the west. This doesn’t match modern Ithaki. Instead they argue that Ithaca was where the peninsula of Paliki is on the island of Kephalonia. So far this isn’t anything major, there are geographical disputes about various places. However they’ve come up with an elegant way to test their idea.
If they’re right then the land which is now the Thinia isthmus joining Paliki to the rest of Kephalonia must have been navigable to ships. This is where it gets a bit odd. This isthmus is around 180m above sea level. It’s not impossible for land to rise, but the uplift is estimated to be 6 metres, so there’s a bit of explaining to do. Prof Underhill’s explanation is infill from the surrounding valley sides. I haven’t visited the site but it’s plausible. The elegant bit is that if this is infill they can test their idea.
Rather than archaeologically digging they can find out whether there was a channel there or not by coring. Effectively you have a hollow drill which can pull out a core of earth and keep it firm so that the strata can be examined. It’s been successful before in helping identify sites like Helike, so it’s a recognised technique and it proposes a simple answer. If this is an infilled channel they’ll find that the core is full of loose debris that fell down the mountainside. If they find bedrock then there isn’t a channel.
And that’s the bit I really like. Bittlestone has a clear idea of what would prove him wrong.
There’s additional supporting material Strabo said of Kephalonia “Where the island is narrowest it forms an isthmus so low-lying that it is often submerged from sea to sea.” which doesn’t match the modern island but could descibe the channel as infilling happened.
You can read more at the project’s web site, including a download of an article which appeared in Geoscientist magazine (you’ll need to scroll down a bit). Finding the remains of a channel wouldn’t prove Paliki was Ithaca, but it would swing the evidence strongly in its favour. I’ll add it to me to-read list. I’d like to read it even it is proved wrong, because it does seem a fascinating argument.Google+