“The idea of going to a museum and coming away having heard a voice from 3,000 years ago is the sort of thing people might well remember for a long time.”
Thanks to astonishing advances in 3D-printing technology, researchers have now been able to reconstruct the vocal tract of an ancient Egyptian mummy — allowing the world to hear his voice for the first time in 3,000 years.
As The New York Times reported, archaeologists resurrected the voice of an Egyptian priest named Nesyamun. He sang praises of worship at the Karnak temple in Thebes, reciting words to Egyptian gods like Nut, the ancient goddess of the sky and heavens.
When he died, his gift of melody was immortalized on his coffin with an inscription that read, “Nesyamun, true of voice.” But what exactly did Nesyamun’s voice sound like? Scientists were eager to find out.
According to a study recently published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers in England detailed their amazing efforts to reconstruct Nesyamun’s voice after three millennia.
Their basic goal was to rebuild his vocal tract. Luckily, the singing priest’s mummification had kept his throat and mouth largely intact.
“The actual mummification process was key here,” explained Joann Fletcher, an Egyptologist at England’s University of York and the paper’s co-author. “The superb quality of preservation achieved by the ancient embalmers meant that Nesyamun’s vocal tract is still in excellent shape.”
Using a CT scanner, the research team scanned the mummy to produce a 3D image of the inside of his throat. The images were then printed out using a 3D printer and combined with an electronic larynx to reconstruct “the sound that would come out of his vocal tract if he was in his coffin and his larynx came to life again,” David Howard, a speech scientist at Royal Holloway in London and another member of the research team, said.
The result is an incredible resurrection of Nesyamun’s vocal tract. So far, the high-tech replica has only produced one sound — an unclear drawl that scientists say resembles an “ah” or “eh”-sounding vowel. To some, the sound might not be too far from a cow’s moo.
“He certainly can’t speak at the moment,” Howard said. “But I think it’s perfectly plausible to suggest that one day it will be possible to produce words that are as close as we can make them to what he would have sounded like.”
The short audio clip might be anti-climatic — or even eerie depending on your perspective — but nevertheless, the reconstruction of a voice belonging to a person who lived thousands of years ago has never been done before in this particular way.