Scans of chambers in the Catacombs of Domitilla have been color-coded to show specific tombs. Photo by N. Zimmermann / OEAW.The Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome's largest, extend over 9 miles. The network of tombs still contains bones, as well as frescoes that range from pagan to 4th-century Christian. Tourists have been able to see about a mile of the catacombs, but not quite like this: An team led by Norbert Zimmermann has been making a virtual 3-D model of the tomb over the last three years. "When the process is finished," reports the BBC, "it looks like an actual film of the particular room in question."
Paintings on walls, which have not been seen in nearly 2,000 years, are now visible - their colors vivid and clear.
"It is not a virtual image, it is not animation - what you are seeing is real data," says Mr Zimmerman.
I ask him why he did not just video the whole thing.
"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 says.
"Its moving, 3D flexibility, gives you the chance to compare areas, to assess the ways the Catacombs were developed over time, to analyze how and why those who built them did what they did," he adds. "That's never been possible before."
The team plans to finish documenting the sections with paintings in 2009.
The laser scanner in action. This tomb has a painting of the deceased, Veneranda, being led into a paradise garden by Santa Petronilla. The researchers put the camera in nine positions in order to complete the scan of this tomb. Photo by N. Zimmermann / OEAW.