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The Mummy Returns

The Mummy Returns. Ancient Priest Voice

Egyptian news. Scientists from the London and York Universities reproduced the voice of the mummified ancient Egyptian priest Nesyamun, who died about 3000 years ago.

Researchers succeeded because the soft tissue of the priest’s vocal tract remained almost intact. It was made with the help of an artificial vocal machine.

British scientists made a three-dimensional vocal tract model of the ancient Egyptian mummy and recreated a copy of it. All this allowed them to reconstruct the voice of the priest who lived in the era of Ramses XI.

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The priest lived during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses XI between 1099 and 1069 BC. Nesyamun was a priest at the Temple of Amun at the Karnak complex in Thebes (the modern city of Luxor). To perform all the necessary rituals, including singing, he needed a strong voice.

It is believed that he died before reaching the age of 60: perhaps after a severe allergic reaction.

His mummy was discovered in the Karnak temple complex. From the first third of the XIX century, his remains are in the museum in the British city of Leeds.

The sound fragment demonstrates the pronunciation of the syllable “Neh” in the priest’s voice. Nesyamun voice resembles the sound of a vowel and is somewhat like a bleating sheep.

The authors’ task was to demonstrate the principle of reconstruction, which could find a wider application in the near future.

To recreate the priest’s voice, scientists performed mummies computer tomography. Thus, scans of the head and neck were obtained, along which a 3D model of the speech tract was created.

This model was printed on a 3D printer and the larynx model and speaker were connected to the printed voice path.

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Using this entire construction, scientists were able to synthesize the vowel sound. The ominous tone may not completely resemble the voice of Nesyamun since over 3000 years his tongue has lost most of its mass.

“We recreated the right sound based on the current state of the mummy, but we do not expect an exact speech match, given the poor state of the language,” said David M. Howard, co-author of the study.

The authors of the work also note that only one model is not enough for the synthesis of whole words or sentences. However, the first step in this direction has already been taken! 

As for Nesyamun, his status was determined by the inscriptions found on the sarcophagus in the tomb. These texts made it possible to establish that he was not only an Egyptian priest, but also a scribe. Probably the ritual duty of Nesyamun in the temple was singing and talking with the gods.

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For example, one of the inscriptions on his coffin expresses “a desire to see and turn to the gods, as he did in his working life. Now he can turn to all of us.”

“There is nothing more personal than someone’s voice! Hearing a voice from such a long time is an unforgettable experience. Thanks to the new method, historical characters like Nesyamun come to life. This method can be used to help people better understand the historical heritage,” shared the study co-author John Scofield, an archaeologist from York University.

According to the BBC, this is the first experiment during which it was possible to successfully recreate the voice of a deceased person using artificial means. In the future, scientists plan to use computer models to reproduce entire sentences in the voice of Nesyamun.

Well, this is the only Egyptian mummy known to scientists dating back to the reign of Ramses XI. Therefore, Nesyamun is of great scientific interest. Its analysis allowed to have a new look at ancient Egypt.

The remains of Nesyamun are intangible part of the exposition of the Leeds Museum.

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