Have you ever heard what an ancient Egyptian mummy sounded? Probably not, but a group of scientists at the University of London have reconstructed the vocal tract of Nesyamun, a priest who lived more than 3000 years ago. The mummy of Nesyamun is reserved in the Leeds City Museum in England that was first uncovered in 1824.
Studies revealed Nesyamun was an ancient Egyptian priest who sang chants as part of his ritual duties at the temple of Karnak in Thebes during the reign of Pharaoh Rames XI. David Howard, the leading researcher behind the project, and his team reproduced a single sound, that sounds a bit like a long, exasperated "meh" without the "m." The sound falls between the English vowel sounds in "bed" and "bad" and resembles a brief groan.
The incredible project started in 2013 and experts from various field executed the study including archaeology, Egyptology, clinical science, museum curation, and electrical engineering. They used a combination of CT scans, 3D printing, and electronic larynx to reconstruct the vocal tract of the mummy. The team used CT scans to image the mummy’s vocal tract and measured the position of the airway, bone, and soft tissue structures.
"It has been such an interesting project that has opened a novel window onto the past and we're very excited to be able to share the sound with people for the first time in 3,000 years," said Professor David Howard.
Next, they digitally recreated the vocal tract, which in humans made of the laryngeal cavity, the pharynx, and the oral and nasal cavities. Finally, the model was 3D printed, combined with an electronic larynx that generates sound.
Nesyamun had died in his mid-50s without any damage to the bones around his neck, revealed subsequent studies. The interesting fact is, Nesyamun’s coffin inscriptions revealed his dying wish that was to speak even after death. It makes him an ideal subject for study.
However, the produced sound is not the mummy speaking; it is the same sound his voice would have produced. This is not the end as Howard informed that they would continue to conduct the second stage of research on Nesyamun's vocal tract. Thanks to the science that helped to bring back a dead person's voice.