Researchers use 3D-printed vocal cords to give 3,000-year-old mummy a voice

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Researchers just gave a mummy a new voice with 3D printed vocal cords.
Image: Scientific Reports

In a highly intriguing study, a team of researchers used a combination of 3D printing and CT scans to recreate the vocal cords of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy. With the information they learned, the U.K. researchers made a simulation of what his voice may have sounded like.

The team hopes that this early breakthrough will pave the way for more discoveries in the field. Perhaps one day, museum visitors will be able to hear what ancient people sounded like thanks to studies that map and reproduce their vocal anatomy.

Nesyamun Speaks

The ancient mummy goes by the name of Nesyamun. He was an Egyptian priest who lived under the reign of pharaoh Ramses XI in the early 11th century B.C. Ironically, Nesyamun’s coffin bears the inscription “true of voice.”

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Originally, researchers took interest in his strange manner of death. At first, it was believed that Nesyamun was strangled. However, further evidence has shown that he may have died of an allergic reaction after being stung by an insect.

A team of researchers from various U.K. universities combined to publish a study in the journal Scientific Reports. They started by transporting the mummy to Leeds General Infirmary to perform a series of CT scans. These digital images allowed the team to recreate Nesyamun’s vocal tract and then produce a physical model of it with a 3D printer.

From there, they combined it with an electronic larynx and a loudspeaker to create a replica of what the ancient priest may have sounded like. A video from The Guardian below offers a glimpse of the findings.

Yes, the sound is slightly underwhelming. It more closely resembles an animal noise than human speech.

According to Professor John Schofield, a co-author of the study, “This [current sound] is never a sound he would have made in life, but from it, we can create sounds that would have been made during his lifetime.”

Intimate Connection

It goes without saying that hearing the voice of a person who lived more than 3,000 years ago is incredible. Even if it is just a sound of exasperation, it is something that has never been accomplished before.

Despite this, the research team doesn’t plan on stopping here.

Schofield says, “What we’d like to try to do next is develop a computer model that will allow us to move [the vocal tract] around and form different vowel sounds and hopefully, ultimately words.”

One way of doing this involves using models of living humans to practice the approach. This would allow researchers to determine how accurate their replica voices are.

“It is just the sheer excitement and the extra dimension that this could bring to museum visits, for example. 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.”

Those interested in seeing Nesyamun in person can view his mummy at the Leeds City Museum.

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