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Shedding Light on the Catacombs of Rome

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Researchers have completed a three-year project to create the first comprehensive, three-dimensional (3D) image of the Catacombs in Rome. The project used laser scanners to create moving images of the entire underground system.

To create the images, a scanner was placed in each room, and as it rotated it sent out millions of light pulses that bounced off of every surface and reflected back to the scanner before being recorded on a computer as a series of white dots. Simultaneously, a camera on the scanner took a picture of each surface, which was sent to the computer to add color and fill in the dots. A total of four billion dots were recorded, enabling almost the entire Catacombs to be documented. Only a few small spaces were omitted because it was not possible to get a scanner in those areas.

The final product is a virtual Catacombs that users can navigate on their computer, traveling down corridors and chambers and viewing paintings on walls that have not been seen in nearly 2,000 years. "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," says project lead Norbert Zimmerman from the Vienna Academy of Sciences. "That's never been possible before."

From BBC News
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