Probing the Catacombs (sort of)

The incipit of an interesting item from ANSA:

Rome’s underground network of catacombs is set to reveal more secrets thanks to the creation of a new laser mapping tool.

A team of 10 researchers, led by archaeologist Norbert Zimmermann from the Vienna Academy of Sciences, has produced a scanner that is able to create a three-dimensional model of the catacombs from above ground.

After three years of work, the group has produced a complete 3D model of the catacombs of Domitilla, giving archaeologists a full overview of the labyrinth of underground tunnels. ”We have known about the catacombs for around 400 years but in all that time, no precise map has ever been made,” said Zimmermann. The data produced by the scanner has been combined with existing photographs.

This enables people using the model to not only ”wander” through the virtual tunnels, but also to explore the individual tombs and examine wall paintings that are normally shrouded in darkness. In the next stage of the project, which lasts until 2011, the researchers want to count the exact number of tombs within the catacombs, as well as documenting the funerary paintings that have not yet undergone full scientific studies. Zimmermann said he hoped the votive inscriptions would provide interesting new sociological detail that could later be added to the model, such the age of the individuals buried in each tomb. There are around 40 Rome catacombs, dating back to the 2nd-century AD, which began life as secret Christian burial place.

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