Saving Ancient Catacomb Frescoes the Viennese Way


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Recently, The Benefits of Technology discussed how modern innovations help researchers either find lost sites or recover important data that was considered long gone.

This past weekend, the BBC reported another fascinating development and this one hails from the Vienna Academy of Sciences.

Rome has over 40 Jewish and Christian catacombs tunneling more than 100 miles in and around subterranean Rome. However, due to structural concerns, the Vatican only allows public access to approximately 1,600 feet of these treasures. Other catacombs can be accessed only by special permission.

Over the past three years, a team of 10 scientists have been mapping the largest one, Saint Domitilla, via laser scanner. The scanner looks deceptively like something one would find in an astronomy store but has a more complex programming.

The instrument collects data by sending out light impulses. The impulse bounces off the catacomb wall back into the scanner which then records the information in its database as a specific location point. Over time, these points build up into a pixilated photo. Since the scanner turns while it’s sending light impulses, the end result photo is a 360 degree view of both the frescoes and the actual building structure.

The ability to study the structural aspect of these tombs in 3-D was the plus in using the laser scanner as opposed to the more inflexible video option.

Unfortunately, there are no plans at this time for scanning all of the catacombs but this hasn’t been ruled out entirely. However, the Vienna Academy has promised to share its findings on Saint Domitilla once the data has been studied. This release is tentatively planned within a year’s time.

This means researchers can now expect to see unique fresco art finally brought to the light after 2,000 years in darkness.

For more photos and carvings, see Tales From the Crypts.

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