Voices of the Past

3000 Year Old Mummy Speaks Again

At the Royal Holloway University of London, a team of researchers have been working of a project called ‘voices of the past’. A project which aims at recreating voices of well preserved individuals.

Scanning The Body

They have been using non-destructive CT scans to build a 3D model of a 3,000 year old vocal tract. It belongs to a mummy currently in Leeds city museum called Nesyamum. There close up airway scan allowed them to create an accurate 3D model of the airway. Nesyamum was a High priest to Ramses XI, one of his main duties was to sing the Divine Office.

The current model consists of a 3D printed vocal tract through which noise is played. Extensive testing was done to see how the 3D printing could most accurately represent flesh (we can’t 3D print in flesh yet!). It was found that just using the standard hard plastic composite at a 2mm thickness was very close to the desired result.

The Sound

The mummy’s groan

The sound created is not a perfect representation of what he would have sounded like. This is because, while the flesh in the throat has not decayed, the tongue has withered away. Without the tongue accurate noises and speech are not possible. The sound produced has been described as a vowel sound between the vowel sound in ‘bad’ and ‘bed’.

Project Next Steps

The next steps for the project are to try and 3D model a tongue to make more accurate sounds and hopefully vowel sounds. Eventually maybe even have a model with a moving tongue and capable of more advanced speech. The final stage which is the dream goal is to make it sing in a way that resembles the divine office as he would have used to do 3,000 years ago.

The project hopes to have many applications from understanding history in greater depth, to enhancing museum experiences. We are all very excited to see where this project leads!

Post Author: Thomas Simpson