Voice of a 3,000-Year-Old Mummy Brought to Life by Scientists

The voice belonged to the mummified Egyptian priest, Nesyamun.
Fabienne Lang
Nesyamun's mummy heading into the body-scanning technologyLeeds Museums and Galleries

The Mummy Returns movie was on point with its prediction. Although not quite physically moving, part of a 3,000-year-old mummy has been brought back to life: its voice.

A team of researchers used 3D printing and body-scanning technology to recreate the voice of an ancient Egyptian priest, Nesyamun.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday.


Human vocal tract and sounds

In recent decades researchers have been able to study how living human vocal tracts work to speak, sing, or even beatbox. Thanks to new technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, and computed tomography (CT scans), scientists have been able to get a closer look into the matter. 

3D printed replicas of vocal tracts and specific body parts have been created which allow scientists to better understand the physical forms used to create sound.

One such technology is a "vocal tract organ" that can play vowel sounds through a 3D printed replica of a larynx. This "organ" caught John Schofield's attention, an archaeologist at the University of York in England, and co-author of the study. 

Voice of a 3,000-Year-Old Mummy Brought to Life by Scientists
Nesyamun's coffin resides at the Leeds Museum and Galleries, Source: Leeds Museum and Galleries

Mummification and preservation

Mummification allows many bodily structures to remain intact for thousands of years. This was the case for Nesyamun, who was a priest and scribe during the reign of Ramses XI and who died in his fifties

CT scans of Nesyamun's larynx and throat were carried out by Schofield and his team, where they discovered enough scar tissue remained for them to measure the dimensions of his airway from the larynx to the lips. From this, they could also create a 3D printed model of his vocal tract. 

The team added some details to the digital model of the tract so that they could end up producing sounds from the printed model. David Howard, co-author of the study and electronic engineer at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that "a coupling cylinder was added at the larynx end to connect it to a loudspeaker, which inputs a larynx sound."

It has to be noted that the synthesized voice of the mummy is not his real voice, it is a replica that matches as close as possible to his original voice. 

However, the researchers believe that their voice simulation may help in bringing history "back to life," especially for museums. "When visitors encounter the past, it is usually a visual encounter," Schofield said. "With this voice, we can change that and make the encounter more multidimensional."

Voice of a 3,000-Year-Old Mummy Brought to Life by Scientists
The 3,000-year-old mummy going into the scanning machine, Source: Leeds Museum and Galleries


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