Speaking After 3000 Years

No, this is not a joke. An Egyptian has spoken for the first time in 3000 years. It was only one syllable, but still…

As you must have guessed, the person was actually the mummy of a priest named Nesyamun who lived three millennia ago. And yet scientists were able to reproduce his speech.

How is that possible? Unlike a skeleton, which is simply bone, mummification also preserves soft tissue. This means all the parts used to produce a voice — the mouth, throat and nasal cavity — are preserved. A team led by D.M. Howard, a professor of electrical engineering at Royal Holloway, University of London, used CT-scanning to create a digital model of his vocal tract, then reconstructed the tract with a 3-D printer. The model was incomplete — for example, the tongue was too complex to recreate and the body was positioned for burial, which produces a very different sound from someone standing or sitting, but gaps were filled in as best they could. Then the model was hooked to a small speaker system, which was connected in turn to a device called a vocal tract organ to produce an acoustical signal in the range of human speech. So the resulting signal should be something like the original human voice. In this case, it was a single vowel sound. Granted, that isn’t very impressive, but it’s a starting point for future work.

At this point, any practical benefits are unclear, but it’s still quite an achievement.

Taken from “A 3,000-Year-Old Mummy Speaks. Really.” by Jeffrey Kluger (https://time.com/5769431/mummy-speaks-voice/?). The photo came from that site.

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