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Fair wind for Odysseus

Geoscientist 17.4 April 2007

FUGRO's Resolve helicopter-based aeromagnetic survey penetrates the terrain below and builds up a picture of subsurface rock units and structures

Industry and government are joining forces with academe in an attempt to settle the question of Odysseus's true homeland.

Ted Nield writes: Global geoscientific and geotechnical engineers FUGRO are to team up with the Odysseus Unbound project and the Greek geological institute IGME to solve the age-old mystery over the true geographical location of Odysseus's homeland, Ithaca. FUGRO's sponsorship will bring industry-scale geophysical techniques to bear, enabling the team to perform a "full body-scan" of the six kilometre long isthmus that today links the main island of Kefallinia to the peninsula known as Paliki.

Authors Robert Bittlestone (Metapraxis Ltd.), James Diggle (University of Cambridge) and John Underhill (University of Edinburgh) are investigating whether an ancient, probably tidal, marine channel once separated the peninsula from the main island (as hinted at by ancient geographer Strabo) and that this peninsula has long gone unrecognised as the true homeland of the Greek hero, despite its otherwise uncannily close agreement with Homer's georaphical clues.

Drilling in 2006 provided support for the theory.

Many devices

Drilling on the course of "Strabo's Channel" has already yielded encouraging results (Geoscientist February 2006, pp8-10). FUGRO will now follow up by conducting further drilling and geophysical surveys, with the aim of constructing a 3D image of the subsurface and establishing a reliable reconstruction of how the area appeared 3000 years ago before, the team believes, geological processes conspired to obliterate the seaway. FUGRO's expertise in groundwater assessment will be employed to establish the routes of ancient and modern watercourses on the isthmus and peninsula – work that the team hopes will also benefit modern islanders, who need reliable fresh water today as much as their forebears did in the Bronze Age.

FUGRO also hopes that it will be able to sponsor a full-time geology PhD studentship under the NERC Collaborative Awards in Science & Engineering (CASE) scheme, which matches research council and industry funding. If the studentship bid is successful it will enable a continuing programme of research to be carried out – in place of the periodic site visits and tests on which the project has so far relied.

Welcoming FUGRO's involvement, Prof. John Underhill (University of Edinburgh) said: "It is wonderful news that such a world-renowned geophysical company has responded so positively to the geoscientific challenge established by our research results. FUGRO’s multidisciplinary approach, state-of-the-art technologies and in-house expertise will enable us to perform the most thorough and rigorous test of the “Strabo’s Channel” proposal. Our new collaboration with FUGRO and the continuing close support of Greece’s IGME geological institute are expected to provide important new insights into the evolution of this remarkable landscape over the past 10,000 years."

For FUGRO, Chief Executive Klaas Wester said: "The technical challenge presented by the project calls for a broad range of investigative solutions. This is an opportunity for Fugro to showcase many of the specialised geophysical, geotechnical and survey services that we offer, while at the same time benefiting the local community."