WATCHING THE WORLD: Archeology or oil?

April 2, 2007
We recently were talking with a Turkish friend who said intelligent oil people are not going to be fooled by the latest efforts of the Greeks.

We recently were talking with a Turkish friend who said intelligent oil people are not going to be fooled by the latest efforts of the Greeks. According to our friend, under the guise of conducting yet another archaeological investigation of Homer, their great epic poet, the Greeks have really authorized a search for oil.

The Turk was agitated last week when word broke of a geological engineering company agreeing to help in an archaeological project to find the island of Ithaca, which Homer’s legendary hero Odysseus was supposed to have ruled.

Although the western Greek island of Ithaki is generally accepted as the Homeric site, scholars have long been troubled by a mismatch between its location and geography and those of the Ithaca described by Homer.

Seeking Ithaca

In fact, Robert Bittlestone, a management consultant, believes that the peninsula of Paliki on the Ionian island of Cephallonia, near Ithaki, is the real location of Odysseus’ homeland. Bittlestone thinks that Paliki used to form a separate island before earthquakes and landslides filled in a narrow sea channel dividing it from Cephallonia.

To test Bittlestone’s theory, engineers and geologists will examine rock where Bittlestone believes a narrow sea channel once existed.

Our Turk, though, said we need to consider a little more about Bittlestone and Odysseus Unbound, the book he has written with two other people. In our Turk’s narrow-eyed view of the Greek enterprise, the evidence points to conspiracy.

Bittlestone was educated in classics and science before reading economics at the University of Cambridge. But he also is the founder of Metapraxis Ltd., a company specializing in the detection of early warnings for multinational companies.

Seeking signs

Our Turkish friend raised his eyebrows at that expression, “early warnings for multinational companies” and gave the nod-nod, wink-wink to let us know the signs the archaeologists are seeking: hydrocarbons under the Mediterranean.

As evidence of that, he said John Underhill, one of Bittlestone’s coauthors, is chair of stratigraphy at the University of Edinburgh and associate professor in the department of petroleum engineering, Heriot-Watt University.

He then began to tell us how Fugro Group, along with Bittlestone and the Greek Geological Society, will use high-tech surveying equipment that might be used in oil-and-gas exploration for the Ithaca project.

Personally, I think our Turk was a little overexcited due to the issue of oil in waters off Cyprus, which Turkey disputes, where international oil companies are lining up for lucrative permits.

He also may have read that Mediterranean Oil & Gas PLC swung to a first half pretax profit and expects to spud its key Monte Gross and Ombrina Mare wells in 2007. Who knows what Homer found on Ithaca, wherever it may lie. But in the search for Ithaca, pace our Turk, should we worry if a lot of oil is found along the way?