The sound of a vocal tract from the Egyptian mummy Nesyamun has been synthesised via new technology allowing modern society to re-engage with the ancient past in a completely original and unconventional way. Nesyamun was an Egyptian priest and scribe around 3,000 years ago, with the leather ornament in his bandages dating back to the reign of Ramesses XI in 1113-1085 B.C. The mummy was unwrapped in 1824 and currently resides in the Leeds City Museum, where there is subsequent research detailing his death. It is suspected that he died in his 50s from strangulation via an allergic reaction to an insect sting; this would explain the mummy having his tongue sticking out yet no trauma being present to the neck bones.
The Nesyamun mummy is of significant historic importance as it is the only one to have been dated to the beginning of the 11th Century BC and provides detail on not only Nesyamun’s beliefs while alive but also the culture at the time. This mummy holds even more importance with researchers reproducing Nesyamun’s vocal tract via 3D-printing to recreate his voice.
The elaborate mummification process has allowed the structure of Nesyamun’s larynx and throat to be preserved in such a manner that the vocal tract shape can be measured. This was achieved by taking the mummy to Leeds General Infirmary where CT scans took place. From these images 3D printing could be utilised to digitally reconstruct Nesyamun’s vocal tract.
Some drawbacks were met with the tongue being shrivelled and soft palate absent due to burial for such a length of time. However, this was overcome by virtually filling it in, allowing for the 3D model to be coupled to an electronic larynx and loudspeaker. As a result, the larynx sound of Nesyamun has been reproduced electronically compared to a normal functioning body where air flows through the larynx. One interesting finding was that the vocal dimensions suggest that Nesyamun’s voice was of higher pitch than the average modern man.
The researcher’s aim is to produce a software that will permit movement of the vocal tract to form vowels, and eventually words. The benefits of this study have fulfilled Nesyamun’s desire in his own words to ‘speak again’ and has created a human connection between us in the 21st Century and the ancient Egyptians of the 11th Century B.C.