March 27, 2007 in Nation/World

Company to help hunt island of Ithaca

Derek Gatopoulos Associated Press
 

ATHENS, Greece – A geological engineering company said Monday it has agreed to take part in an archaeological project to find the island of Ithaca, homeland of Homer’s legendary hero Odysseus.

It has long been thought that the island of Ithaki in the Ionian Sea was the island Homer used as a setting for the epic poem “The Odyssey,” in which the king Odysseus makes a perilous 10-year journey home from the Trojan War.

But amateur British archaeologist Robert Bittlestone believes the Ithaca of Homer is no longer a separate island, but became attached to the island of Kefallonia through rock displacement caused by earthquakes. The theory could explain inconsistencies between Ithaki and Homer’s description of Odysseus’ island.

“Because no one has ever been able to find Ithaca, people felt the Odyssey was like a ‘Lord of the Rings’ story,” Bittlestone said in an interview. “This would say Ithaca was a real place – it doesn’t say Odysseus was a real person; that’s another jump.”

The Dutch-based engineering services company, Fugro Group, will use high-tech surveying equipment normally used in oil-and-gas exploration for the Ithaca project, due to start this summer and last about three years. The Greek Geological Society is also sponsoring the research.

“The technology will be very varied and that attracted Fugro to this,” said Steve Thompson, director of airborne survey at Fugro. “It’s unusual to be faced with a problem where you can apply the broad range of services that we have.”

“We’re all secretly hoping the thesis is true,” he added. “But we are approaching this is in a very scientific way.”

To test the theory, engineers and geologists will examine rock where Bittlestone believes a narrow sea channel once existed, possibly separating Kefallonia from a flat peninsula called Paliki. They hope to discover whether it is made of solid rock or debris, which would suggest Paliki was once an island.

Homer describes Ithaca as low-lying and “furthest to the sea” – but Ithaki is mountainous and is not the outermost Ionian island. Paliki, on the other hand, is generally flat and could theoretically have been the outermost island.

Kefallonia lies in a seismically active area, and was rattled Sunday by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake, followed by scores of aftershocks Monday.

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