3D images shed new light on ancient Catacombs of Rome

May 4th, 2009 - 3:05 pm ICT by ANI  

London, May 4 (ANI): Austrian and Italian archaeologists, architects and computer scientists, have teamed up to create the first fully comprehensive 3D images of the ancient Catacombs of Rome, which date back to the 2nd Century AD.

There are more than 40 of Rome’s underground Christian, Jewish and pagan burial sites, the Catacombs, which stretch over 170 km.

But, until now, they have never been fully documented, their vast scale only recorded with handmade maps.

According to a report by BBC News, that is now changing, following a three-year project to create the first fully comprehensive three-dimensional image using laser scanners.

A team of 10 Austrian and Italian archaeologists, architects and computer scientists have started with the largest catacomb, Saint Domitilla, just outside the Italian capital.

The tunnels, caves, galleries and burial chambers of Saint Domitilla stretch for about 15km (9 miles) over a number of levels.

At a time when Christians, in particular, were persecuted, the Catacombs became a relatively safe place to bury the dead.

The soft, volcanic tufa rock was an especially workable, yet durable, material that was burrowed out over the course of nearly three centuries.

Yet, because of concerns about safety, only about 500m (1,640ft) are accessible to the public today.

The new, moving, images of this entire underground system will change all that and open up this beautiful subterranean world in a way that it has never been seen before.

On a computer screen, the viewer can now see the whole underground complex. Using different buttons on the key pad, one can zoom in on the tunnels.

The viewer can travel “through” walls, down corridors and into chambers, giving the first real sense of its beauty, scale and detail.

Paintings on walls, which have not been seen in nearly 2,000 years, are now visible - their colours vivid and clear.

“It is not a virtual image, it is not animation - what you are seeing is real data,” said Zimmerman.

“Well, you could have filmed each room. But that would not have given you the ability to ‘travel’ through the catacomb in a way that the scanned images allow,” he said.

According to Zimmerman, “Its moving, 3D flexibility, gives you the chance to compare areas, to assess the ways the Catacombs were developed over time, to analyse how and why those who built them did what they did. That’s never been possible before.” (ANI)

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