Go ahead. Click the sound file. This is EXACTLY what he said.
This is the voice of a mummified Egyptian priest who lived 3,000 years ago during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses XI. His name was Nesyamun, a scribe and priest in his mid-50’s . And honestly, if you were disturbed after resting in peace for 3,000 years , this is the sound you would make.
Nesyamun is among the lucky few whose soft tissue in the throat and vocal tract have survived into the present time. By subjecting his mummy to a CT scan, scientists were able to obtain a detailed image of the man’s airway. This information was used to direct a 3-D printer to reproduce this bit of Nesyamun’s anatomy. Once the printed airway was connected to a specialized loud speaker and an artificial larynx, the sound of his voice could be recreated. What is heard on the audio file is the sound Nesyamun’s vocal tract would make in the position he is lying in the sarcophagus.
To go beyond a simple sound, the scientists would need to fashion a tongue for Nesyamun. His tongue muscles, unfortunately, had wasted away and were not available to provide instructions for 3-D printing. If the reproduction of his airway could be provided with a tongue appropriate for the size of Nesyamun’s vocal tract, we would be able to hear words spoken in his voice. We could recreate the sounds of Nesyamun speaking and chanting while going about his priestly duties in the temple of Karnak. Egyptian scholars say the phonetics and the music of the ancient songs are known, so in principle we could someday hear Nesyamun sing again — a voice that has been silenced for 3,000 years.
Next up, they may try this for Lindow Man, a 2,000 year old bog body found in Chesire in northern England.
Just be sure to manage your expectations as this work proceeds. Neanderthals do not sound at all how I’d expected them to sound. Instead of a basso profundo voice, the sound they issued brings to mind Monty Python’s spam sketch.
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The original article about Nesyamun can be read here and here.
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Image courtesy of Wikimedia [File:EB1911 China – Egyptian hieroglyph – eyes.jpg]. Chosen because the expression so closely matched the mummy’s sound.
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