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Voice of a 3,000-year-old Ancient Egyptian priest is recreated

Mummy ‘speaks’ from beyond the grave: Scientists recreate the nasal voice of an Ancient Egyptian priest 3,000 years after he died using CT scans of his voice box

  • Priest Nesyamun lived during the time of pharaoh Ramses XI 3,000 years ago 
  • His remains have been so well preserved his soft tissue is still largely in tact   
  • CT scanner at a Leeds hospital mapped the inside of his mouth and throat 
  • An exact plastic replica was then made from the scans using 3D printing 
  • Produces a vowel-like sound somewhere between an ‘a’ and an ‘e’ 

A mummified Ancient Egyptian priest is talking from beyond the grave thanks to modern technology. 

Nesyamun, a priest at the time of pharaoh Ramses II the Pharaohs was mummified around 3,000 years ago. 

His remains are so well preserved that scientists were able to map his throat, mouth and voice box using a CT scanner at Leeds General Infirmary, and recreate it using 3D printing. 

The priest, who is normally on display at Leeds museum, was first unwrapped in 1824 and has ‘true of voice’ inscribed on his coffin. 

Academics believe his voice would have produced a vowel-like sound — somewhere between an ‘a’ and ‘e’ noise.

The mummy's remains are so well preserved that his throat, mouth and voice box were mapped using a CT scanner at Leeds General Infirmary and recreated using 3D printing

The mummy’s remains are so well preserved that his throat, mouth and voice box were mapped using a CT scanner at Leeds General Infirmary and recreated using 3D printing

The study conducted by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, University of York and Leeds Museum made a 3D printed version of the mummy's vocal tract. This was then used to recreate his larynx as a plastic copy pictured) which is smaller than that of a modern man

The study conducted by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, University of York and Leeds Museum made a 3D printed version of the mummy’s vocal tract. This was then used to recreate his larynx as a plastic copy pictured) which is smaller than that of a modern man

The study conducted by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, University of York and Leeds Museum made a took detailed scans and measurements of the mummy’s vocal tract. 

This was then used to recreate his larynx as a plastic copy which is smaller than that of a modern man, likely making his voice relatively high pitched. 

Experts anticipate this is due predominantly to the fact Ancient Egyptians were much smaller than modern people, between 5ft and 5ft 4inches tall on average.  

The electronic larynx is similar to those used in modern medicine to give speech back to people who lost their voice.

The priest was put through a CT scanner (pictured) to recreate his voice. He lived during the politically volatile reign of pharaoh Ramses XI (c.1099-1069 BC), working as a scribe and priest at the state temple of Karnak in Thebes - modern Luxor

The priest was put through a CT scanner (pictured) to recreate his voice. He lived during the politically volatile reign of pharaoh Ramses XI (c.1099-1069 BC), working as a scribe and priest at the state temple of Karnak in Thebes – modern Luxor

The priest¿s mummy unusually has its tongue sticking out, leading some to speculate that he died in his mid-fifties from poisoning or a bee sting to his tongue (pictured)

The priest’s mummy unusually has its tongue sticking out, leading some to speculate that he died in his mid-fifties from poisoning or a bee sting to his tongue (pictured)

The priest, who is normally on display at Leeds museum, was first unwrapped in 1824 and has 'true of voice' inscribed on his coffin (pictured)

The priest, who is normally on display at Leeds museum, was first unwrapped in 1824 and has ‘true of voice’ inscribed on his coffin (pictured)

The priest lived during the politically volatile reign of pharaoh Ramses XI (c.1099-1069 BC), working as a scribe and priest at the state temple of Karnak in Thebes – modern Luxor. 

He unusually has its tongue sticking out, leading some to speculate that he died in his mid-fifties from poisoning or a bee sting to his tongue. 

The result is a single vowel sound but experts hope full sentences could be possible in the next two years.

Scientists say the project has produced the unique opportunity to hear the vocal tract output of someone long dead by virtue of their soft tissue preservation and new developments in technology.

They add that Nesyamun stated a desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever. 

Professor David Howard, from Royal Holloway, said: ‘I was demonstrating the Vocal Tract Organ in June 2013 to colleagues, with implications for providing authentic vocal sounds back to those who have lost the normal speech function of their vocal tract or larynx following an accident or surgery for laryngeal cancer.

‘I was then approached by Professor John Schofield who began to think about the archaeological and heritage opportunities of this new development.

WHAT IS A CT SCAN? 

CT (Computerised tomography) scan uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images. 

They are several single X-rays that create a 2-dimensional images of a ‘slice’ or section of the specimen/individual. 

Although an X-ray creates a flat image, several can be combined to construct complex 3D images. 

A CT scanner emits a series of narrow beams as it moves through an arc.

This is different from an X-ray machine, which sends just one radiation beam. 

The CT scan produces a more detailed final picture than an X-ray image. 

This data is transmitted to a computer, which builds up a 3-D cross-sectional picture of the part of the body and displays it on the screen.

CT scans are used to get an in-depth view of hard to reach places and are commonly used in human medicine. 

They can be used to diagnose conditions to bones and internal organs as well as determining the size, location and shape of a tumour. 

CT scans are also used to recreate images of extinct animals or to get in depth view of fragile archaeological remains.  

CT scanners combine several different 2D X-ray images into a complex 3D image which can reveal high levels of detail in human organs, tissues and also for archaeological remains 

CT scanners combine several different 2D X-ray images into a complex 3D image which can reveal high levels of detail in human organs, tissues and also for archaeological remains 

‘Hence finding Nesyamun and discovering his vocal tract and soft tissues were in great order for us to be able to do this.’

Professor Joann Fletcher, of the department of archaeology at the University of York, added: ‘Ultimately, this innovative interdisciplinary collaboration has given us the unique opportunity to hear the sound of someone long dead by virtue of their soft tissue preservation combined with new developments in technology.

‘And while this has wide implications for both healthcare and museum display, its relevance conforms exactly to the ancient Egyptians’ fundamental belief that “to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again”.’     

The research is published in the Scientific Reports journal.

WHAT IS 3D PRINTING AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

First invented in the 1980s by Chuck Hull, an engineer and physicist, 3D printing technology – also called additive manufacturing – is the process of making an object by depositing material, one layer at a time.

Similarly to how an inkjet printer adds individual dots of ink to form an image, a 3D printer adds material where it is needed, based on a digital file.

Many conventional manufacturing processes involved cutting away excess materials to make a part, and this can lead to wastage of up to 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) for every one pound of useful material, according to the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

By contrast, with some 3D printing processes about 98 per cent of the raw material is used in the finished part, and the method can be used to make small components using plastics and metal powders, with some experimenting with chocolate and other food, as well as biomaterials similar to human cells.

3D printers have been used to manufacture everything from prosthetic limbs to robots, and the process follows these basic steps:

· Creating a 3D blueprint using computer-aided design (CAD) software

· Preparing the printer, including refilling the raw materials such as plastics, metal powders and binding solutions.

· Initiating the printing process via the machine, which builds the object.

· 3D printing processes can vary, but material extrusion is the most common, and it works like a glue gun: the printing material is heated until it liquefies and is extruded through the print nozzle

· Using information from the digital file, the design is split into two-dimensional cross-sections so the printers knows where to put the material

· The nozzle deposits the polymer in thin layers, often 0.1 millimetre (0.004 inches) thick.

· The polymer rapidly solidifies, bonding to the layer below before the build platform lowers and the print head adds another layer (depending on the object, the entire process can take anywhere from minutes to days.)

· After the printing is finished, every object requires some post-processing, ranging from unsticking the object from the build platform to removing support, to removing excess powders. 



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