Santa Domitilla in 3D

The Santa Domitilla catacomb is the oldest and one of the two largest of Rome’s 40 or so secret underground Christian burial networks. There are 15 kilometers of tunnels, cubicles and one suprisingly large basilica carved out of the volcanic tufa rock on what was once the property of Imperial relative and Christian/Jewish convert Flavia Domitilla’s property.

Many of the tunnels have never been explored or excavated because they’re layered on top of each other and in various states of disrepair. Also, there’s a church on top and it’s already sunken.

Thanks to some brilliant Austrian researchers who invented an awesome laser scanning device, there is finally a complete 3D map of all 15 kilometers.

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.

It looks cool, too.

Pretty damn sweet, amirite? Imagine the whole 15k. Now if only they’d put it online so we could explore like the vicarious Indiana Joneses we are….

Fun fact about Flavia Domitilla: She’s mentioned as a convert to Judaism in the Talmud. She’s also mentioned by Suetonius and Cassius Dio as having been convicted of atheism by Domitian and banished to the island of Pandateria. Then Eusebius claimed her for Christianity and said she was exiled to another island.

They may have been talking about two different Flavie, though, an aunt and niece. I think it’s cooler if they’re all talking about the same lady, especially the Talmud and Eusebius.