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Coring for Ithaca

Fig 1 Kefalonia showing tthe Paliki peninsula and the Thinia Valley in which the boreholes are located. The yellow subscript gives the probable names of the respective islands if a marine seaway (Strabo) existed in Thinia 3000 years ago.

Adler deWind reports from the Greek island of Kefalonia on progress towards proving - or disproving - the theory that the Paliki Peninsula was once separated from the main island and was the true geographical location of Homer’s Ithaca.

Geoscientist 20.12 December 2010/January 2011

Despite a clear reference in Homer to “rocky Ithaca” being the westernmost, low-lying Ionian Island, controversy has long surrounded the location of Odysseus’s Homeland1,2.

Three years after their initial support of the geoscientific investigation and work program into testing whether the western peninsula of Kefalonia (Paliki) could have been that free-standing island three millennia ago (Fig.1), the geotechnical company Fugro have now committed to drilling and coring boreholes in 15 locations. If successful, the coring program has the potential to settle the centuries old classical Greek dispute3,4.
Fig.2: Thinia valley, beneath which the marine channel separating Paliki from the rest of Kefalonia is purported to be buried. The valley is 6km long, up to 2km wide and rises to c.180m at its saddle. While the selected borehole sites focus upon rockfall deposits in key areas in the Thinia Valley (Fig.2) through which the proposed ancient marine channel would have run, the locations also include others at Atheras Bay and Livadi marsh (Fig.3). The latter will sample estuarine bay-fill sediments and thus, provide valuable new insights and understanding of the role that tectonics and climate had in modifying the effects of Holocene transgression in the most active part of the Hellenic arc-trench system.

Fig.3: View south towards the Gulf of Livadi. The Livadi marsh (foreground) was the site of the first borehole sites and obtained over 80m of cores through the Holocene bay-fill sediments. Sedimentary cores are being acquired by Fugro Géotechnique, the company’s French affiliate, using a newly purchased Ecoforce CE-603 drilling rig (Fig.4). The rig was transported to Kefalonia on a 26-tonne truck and started its 85-day drilling campaign in September. The coring program is expected to run until mid January 2011. The program has been selected by Prof John Underhill (University of Edinburgh), who is orchestrating the suite of geological, geophysical and geomorphic methods being deployed to test the theory. The program is being undertaken with permission and support of the Greek geological authorities (IGME), local political support from the municipal authorities and mayors of Argostoli and Lixouri, as well as the island’s Archaeological Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and local landowners.
Fig.4: Fugro’s drilling rig on location at the southern Livadi Marsh, early October 2010.

Of the 15 sites, 13 will be continuously cored (Fig.5) and in total the project expects to collect around a kilometre of sediment. Those cores will be shipped to Fugro Robertson’s dedicated core facility in North Wales, where they will be logged, sampled and analysed to reconstruct the depositional history and dated using biostratigraphy and radiocarbon methods.
Fig. 5: Holocene estuarine bay-fill mudstone cores from one of the Livadi Marsh boreholes. Core boxes are 1m long. As well as land coring, there is contingency for a marine coring campaign to supplement the onshore studies. If initial results of the land boreholes are encouraging, the project will use expertise from another Fugro affiliate, namely Falmouth-based SeaCore. This company will provide a self-propelled barge to drill and core beneath the Gulf of Livadi and enable important calibration of the sediments detected by the project’s 2007 seismic reflection survey3.

All being well, results of the new analyses should be available in late 2011, when it will become clearer whether the uncertainty concerning the site of ancient Ithaca has finally been laid to rest.


  1. Bittlestone et al., 2005. Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer's Ithaca. Cambridge University Press. 618 pages, 340 colour illustrations. ISBN: 0521853575
  2. Underhill, J.R. 2006. Quest for Ithaca. Geoscientist 16 (9), 4-29.
  3. Underhill, J.R. 2008. Testing Classical Enigmas. Geoscientist, 18 (9), 20-27
  4. Underhill, J.R. 2009. Relocating Odysseus' Homeland. Nature Geoscience, 2, 455-458