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Look: Virtual reality brings Pompeii back to life and reveals hidden messages of ancient Rome

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When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, the Roman city of Pompeii — and many of its residents — were buried under layers of volcanic ash.

The volcanic matter preserved much of Pompeii’s remains.

Almost two millennia after the disaster, researchers still study the ruins of the city as a window into ancient Roman life and architecture.

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One research team took a creative approach. They modeled a house from Pompeii in VR and invited participants to tour it.

Digital Archaeology Lab/Humanities Lab/Motion Capture Studio/Lund University

Digital Archaeology Lab/Humanities Lab/Motion Capture Studio/Lund University

In a new study in the journal Antiquity, researchers recruited 5 participants to view their VR reconstruction of the House of the Greek Epigrams, a building known for its elaborate frescoes.

Danilo M. Campanaro & Giacomo Landeschi/Antiquity Publications Ltd

The researchers had participants wander the VR house while they tracked their gaze.

They wanted to see which features caught the participants’ eyes the most. Larger dots in this image represent spots that participants fixated on longer.

Here’s a sample of the inside of the house, complete with reconstructed artworks.

Digital Archaeology Lab/Humanities Lab/Motion Capture Studio/Lund University

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Roman architects were known to employ a number of visual tricks and techniques to make buildings seem grander — in turn representing the societal status of the person who lived there.

“The results of this study show how the owner of the house stimulated the visitor's senses to convey a message about its power and wealth.”

Danilo Marco Campanaro, study co-author, in a statement.

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Studying how modern observers view homes in Pompeii could uncover techniques and messages that are literally hidden in the walls.

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The researchers write that this type of dynamic house-viewing could be used in future studies that seek to understand how architecture appealed to the senses to convey a person’s status and power in the ancient world.

And the researchers don’t want to stop at sight. In the future, 4D models of historic landmarks could open doors to the experiences of ancient peoples.

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“The next step in this study could be to overlap the results with multisensory research that includes olfaction and auditory involvement.”

Giacomo Landeschi, study co-author, in a statement.