This key part of our 2021 research plans was made possible by the generous response of our supporters to our recent appeal. Out grateful thanks go to everyone who contributed.
Determining a critical date
We know that a huge chunk of mountainside, some 4km long and up to 1km wide, collapsed in one or more massive landslides to fill the Thinia Valley between Kefalonia and its western peninsula, Paliki. We believe this transformed Paliki from an island to a peninsula.
Determining the date when that happened will be a huge clue to whether Paliki was an island in the Late Bronze Age – the time of Odysseus – and therefore a compelling candidate to be the location of his homeland of Ithaca.
What can Cosmic Ray Exposure dating tell us?
More accurately known as Cosmogenic Radionuclide Exposure, CRE dating measures the isotopic changes caused when previously buried rock is suddenly exposed to sunlight, as it is after a landslide. In effect, it tells us when the landslide happened.
With the help of Asst. Professor Constantin Athanassas from the National Technical University of Athens we took multiple samples from two separate locations.
The main samples were from the scarp slope behind the massive collapse on the mountains at the south-eastern end of the Thinia Valley.
We also took samples from the slope behind the village of Zola, which is built on material from a smaller landslide at the north-western end of the valley.
We took the samples at different heights on the slopes to determine if the landslides happened in a single event or were the result of two or more collapses over time. And it will be interesting to find out if both landslides occurred at the same time or not.
Our rock samples are now at the laboratories of the Centre Européen de Recherche et d’Enseignement de Géosciences de l’Environnement (CEREGE) in France.
Where is Odysseus’ homeland?
For centuries scholars have been baffled by Homer’s description of Ithaca in the Odyssey. It simply doesn’t fit the geography of the modern day Ionian island of Ithaki.
Today’s islands of Ithaki and Kefalonia lie to the west of mainland Greece, with Lefkas to the north and Zacynthos to the south.
Ithaca is described as an island in the Odyssey, but in the Iliad Homer says the people who live there are the Cephallenians:
Odysseus led the gallant Cephallenians,
From Ithaca and leaf-quivering Neriton,
When Odysseus makes himself known to King Alcinoos on the island of Scheria (thought to be Corfu) he introduces his homeland with a description that scholars have pondered over for many centuries:
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.
Interested in why we think this is the most accurate translation of the original Greek?
Prof. James Diggle explains
Ithaki is not Ithaca
However, the island called Ithaki today is not low-lying, it is mountainous. It is clearly not the furthest out to sea and it does not face towards dusk (i.e. west), nor do the adjacent islands face towards the dawn and sun (i.e. east).
The geographical layout is almost opposite to that described by Homer, so how can his description of ancient Ithaca make any sense? And where are Same and the lost island of Doulichion?
Source – odysseus-unbound.org