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Egyptian priest speaks after 3,000 years

  • Published at 11:30 am January 24th, 2020
Egyptian priest speaks after 3,000 years
The mummy of Nesyamun, a priest who lived in Thebes about 3,000 years ago, ready for CT scanning Facebook: Leeds Museums and Galleries

The priest lived between 1099 and 1069BC, during the politically volatile reign of Ramses XI

Scientists have been able to replicate the voice of a 3,000 year old Egyptian priest.

Nesyamun's voice was reproduced as a vowel-like sound, reminiscent of a sheep's bleat.

The priest lived between 1099 and 1069BC, during the politically volatile reign of Ramses XI, reports BBC.

After 3,000 years, a team of researchers managed to give his voice back, producing a 3D-printed voice box based Nesyamun's vocal tract, which was scanned to establish its precise dimensions.  

By using the vocal tract with an artificial larynx sound, they synthesized a vowel sound meant to be similar to the voice of Nesyamun.

It is believed to be the first project of its kind to successfully recreate the voice of a dead person through artificial means.

The research - carried out by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, the University of York and Leeds Museum - was published in the Scientific Reports journal on January 23. 

Prof Fletcher, a professor of archaeology at the University of York, told the BBC it was Nesyamun's "express wish" to be heard in the afterlife, which was part of his religious belief system.

"It's actually written on his coffin - it was what he wanted," Prof Fletcher said. "In a way, we have managed to make that wish come true."

How exactly did they recreate Nesyamun's voice?

In humans, the vocal tract is the passage where sound is filtered. That sound is produced at the larynx - the organ commonly known as the voice box - but we only hear it once it has passed through the vocal tract.

Photo: Facebook: Leeds Museums and Galleries

To copy the sound produced by Nesyamun's vocal tract the exact dimensions of it were mirrored in 3D-printed form.

But this process is only possible when the soft tissue of an individual's vocal tract is reasonably intact. In Nesyamun's case, the fact that his mummified body was well-preserved made this more likely, and the team confirmed it using a CT scanner at Leeds General Infirmary.

Following the scans, a 3D-printed tract was created for Nesyamun, whose "voice" was then generated by an artificial larynx sound - a method commonly used in modern speech synthesis systems.

The next step for the researchers will be to use computer models "to generate words and string those words together to make sentences", said Prof Fletcher.

"We're hoping we can create a version of what he would have said at the temple at Karnak."