What Did the 3K-Year-Old Mummy Say? 'Eeuuughhh'

Cheryl Sanders
January 25, 2020

Scientists have fulfilled a mummified Egyptian priest's wish for life after death - by replicating his voice with artificial vocal cords. They were able to reproduce a single sound, falling between the vowels in the English words "bed" and "bad".

The Egyptian priest Nesyamun lived during the politically volatile reign of pharaoh Ramses XI between BC 1099-1069 and worked at the state temple of Karnak in Thebes, where he needed a strong voice for holding ritual duties that involved singing and speaking.

The work re-creating Nesyamun's voice was aided by a pioneering device Howard created in 2014, known as the Vocal Tract Organ, the device acts a musical instrument that utilizes 3D printed vocal tracts to create specific vowel sounds. This allowed them to create the 3D model of the vocal tract of the former priest and place it on a speaker that mimics the sound that a human larynx can produce.

It should be noted that this is the first project of its kind which turned out as a success as they have recreated the voice of an ancient deceased person through artificial means.

So far, the only noise they've created is a nondescript bleat, sounding something like "beh" but the researchers are hoping to use computer modelling to recreate words and even sentences.

The sound produced by the vocal tract of a 3,000 year-old Egyptian mummy has been synthesized using CT scans, 3D printing and an electronic larynx.

Professor Joann Fletcher, of the department of archaeology at the University of York, added: "Ultimately, this innovative interdisciplinary collaboration has given us the unique opportunity to hear the sound of someone long dead by virtue of their soft tissue preservation combined with new developments in technology".

Nesyamun expressed his wish to be heard in the afterlife. Those who passed the test were termed "true of voice" - a phrase that appears in Nesyamun's coffin inscriptions alongside his name, " Fletcher added. The researchers used a "voice recreation" technique to recreate the sound of his voice.

The researchers were able to determine the dimensions of Nesyamun's vocal tract by giving the mummy a CT scan. He found it "unusual" how perfectly suited the mummy was, considering its age; the soft tissue was well preserved and mostly intact. In Nesyamun's case, the fact that his mummified body was well-preserved made this more likely, and the team confirmed it using a CT scanner at Leeds General Infirmary.

Another co-author of the study also at the University of York who is an archaeologist, Prof John Schofield said the team's approach could offer the public a new way to engage with the past.

If Nesyamun died of an allergic reaction caused by an insect sting, then his newly discovered "voice" may have caught the last moments of his life, similar to an "Oh!" or "Arg!".

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