Sunday, May 3, 2009

Domitilla catacomb paintings revealed by laser scanners

It looks like I will get to explore the catacombs of Saint Domitilla after all! A team of 10 Austrian and Italian archaeologists, architects and computer scientists from the Vienna Academy of Sciences have scanned its winding passageways with a 3-D laser scanner. I think it is really exciting that paintings that are not readily visible to the naked eye have been revealed by the laser and "painted" in living color by the laser's computer.

The leader of the project, Dr Norbert Zimmerman of the Vienna Academy of Sciences, was behind the idea to use laser scanners to record every part of the Catacombs.

His scanner, which looks like a cylinder on a tripod, stands a metre or so high and is a piece of kit you usually find in the construction industry.

It turns slowly, sending out millions of light pulses that bounce off every surface they come into contact with. The light pulses rebound back into the scanner and are recorded on a computer as a series of white dots, known as a "point cloud".

Gradually, every wall, ceiling, and floor is bombarded with the dots, enabling the computer to build up a picture of each room. At the same time a camera on the scanner takes a picture of each surface. That information is also fed into the computer enabling colour to be added to "fill in" the dots. Paintings on walls, which have not been seen in nearly 2,000 years, are now visible - their colours vivid and clear. - More: BBC

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