In 1762 mapmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi created a series of six etchings that depicted his vision of what ancient Rome may have looked like. While we may consider 1762 to be ancient, Piranesi was cataloging a time even older than that, an era when Rome still included a thriving Colosseum at around 70 A.D. Piranesi spent years investigating the ruins of the city, measuring and drawing conclusions about the architecture that surrounded him. In those days etching was one of the only ways to preserve maps and information for future generations, so etch he did; and those records still survive today.

Not all of Piranesi's conclusions about ancient Rome are still considered valid; in fact, most of his work has been described as "precise, specific, yet impossible." Still, his etchings have long been considered a shining example of one of the world's first major archaeological attempts.

Etchings and modern view

In 2012, exactly 250 years after the publication of Piranesi's etchings, twelve students from Yale University created a golden, 3D printed tribute to his work. The students were permitted to work with Piranesi's original folio, entitled Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma.

With Piranesi's etchings in hand, the Yale team used a CAD program to develop a 3D model of the city. That model was then delivered to Materialise, which used their mammoth stereolithography 3D printers to make it a reality. Once printed, the model measured 1500 x 1300 x 90 mm. As a final touch artist Pasquale Bonfilio applied gold leaf to every area of the model, making it (quite literally) a shining example of ancient Rome.

This isn't the first time history has been re-imagined through 3D printing techniques. In the last few years King Tut, King Richard III and an ancient archer have all been reproduced thanks to 3D technology. On top of that a team at the Smithsonian is busy scanning all their treasures for future generations and artist Cosmo Wenman is crowdsourcing his way to 3D printed posterity by printing reproductions of famous statues.