A replica of a 3,000-year-old mummy’s
vocal tract has revealed how
that mummy might sound if he rose from the dead.
Using CT scans of the mummified Egyptian priest Nesyamun (SN: 8/18/14), researchers mapped the exact shape of the mummy’s vocal tract — which governs the unique sound of a person’s voice. When connected to an artificial voice box, a 3-D printed mold of the mummy’s vocal tract produces a sound somewhere between the vowels in “bed” and “bad,” researchers report January 23 in Scientific Reports.
“We are confident that the sound we are
hearing is the sound that belongs to this vocal tract … because we’ve done this
in the past for [living] humans” and gotten good matches between real and
synthetic voices, says David Howard, an electronic engineer at Royal Holloway,
University of London in Egham.
But Nesyamun’s undead utterance doesn’t
quite mimic his original voice, because the mummy’s tongue, which affects the
shape of the vocal tract, is dried up and flattened out. Rather, “we’ve created
the sound that he would make if he was to speak as he currently lies in his
sarcophagus,” Howard says.
The plastic mold of the priest’s vocal
tract cannot say full words, but using a computer simulation of the vocal tract
with a jaw and tongue that move, “we could make him speak,” Howard says. Using inscriptions
in the mummy’s tomb and other ancient religious texts, the researchers may
someday render vocal recordings of Nesyamun’s own prayers and the daily liturgy
that he would have performed in his duties as a priest.
Enabling Nesyamun to speak from beyond
the grave could create more immersive museum exhibitions and provide insights
into ancient architecture. “It’s quite clear that various parts of the Karnak
Temple [where Nesyamun worked] were built in ancient times to have a certain
acoustic quality” for chants and hymns, says study coauthor Joann Fletcher, an
Egyptologist at the University of York in England. Taking Nesyamun’s voice
“back into the place where he was using his voice does help us better interpret
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