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What Do Ancient Egyptian Mummies Sound Like?

Well, you might have found the answer today.

A team of researchers have been hard at work attempting to recreate the vocal cords and sounds of a mummified priest. Their hard work has this week paid off, we've gained a brief clip of a vowel-like sound being made. This is the result of a complex process that rebuilt part of the mummy's vocal cords, allowing us to actually hear what the priest's words would have sounded like.

As you can see, it isn't quite what movies have made it out to be. The particular mummy used was Nesyamun. He was a priest that lives between 1099 and 1069 BC. The process is pretty complicated, but it has given an interesting if strange peak into the life of a person who has been dead for over 3,000 years.

Why This Specific Body?

The first question that you'd likely ask from this news is why this one specific ancient Egyptian priest? Why did the world have to hear him? With so many different historical figures around, surely one relatively unknown priest wouldn't the first on your list?

The mummified body of the priest Nesyamun.The mummified body of the priest Nesyamun.
Springer Nature via Nature.com / Leeds Teaching Hospitals/Leeds Museums and Galleries
The mummified body of the priest Nesyamun.

This priest actually had a request to be 'heard' after his death on his tomb. This was definitely enough of an invitation to invite this team of researches to try and make his last request come true. After all, it would be strange to resurrect the voice of the ancient dead without being specifically instructed to.

Nesyamun had the luxury of being mummified after his death. This process is particularly special since it keeps the soft tissue of a vocal tract intact. This area is vital for performing these kinds of voice resurrections. It was this unique form of preservation that allowed the work to take place.

How Did it Happen?

The research was undertaken by a team from the University of London, University of York, and Leeds Museum. The findings have only just been published, alongside the voice clip itself.
3D printed Nesyamun’s vocal tract.3D printed Nesyamun’s vocal tract.
Springer Nature via Nature.com / Leeds Teaching Hospitals/Leeds Museums and Galleries
3D printed Nesyamun’s vocal tract.

The team used a 3D printer to reproduce the vocal tract of the priest. This is the part of the body that sound is pushed through, which actually gives it its definition. This was only possible because the tissue in the body was still preserved and could be re-created using CT scans and modern printing technology.

In the future, scientists hope to use the same process to try and recreate words said by the priest. While the vowel-like sound is pretty strange, it does open up possibilities about learning more about those who have been dead for 3,000 years.

What's Next for Undead Voices?

This particular process opens things up quite a bit. It would impressive to see this it applied to other figures. While the mummification process is vital for being to perform this, there are more mummies out there than you might expect.

It isn't just ancient Egyptians that this process could be used on. Mummified remains from Chinese dynasties, Christian saints, and the 'Spirit Cave Mummy' are kicking around still preserved. This even opens up the possibility of recreating the voice of a 9,400-year-old man, presuming his mummified throat is in as good condition as other mummies.

The guttural sound of an ancient priest definitely got people's attention, with social media sites a wash in the usual memes that pop up from these events. A particular focus was on the question of why?

Has the sound of an ancient priest changed your life entirely? Well, probably not unless you’re a devotee follower of ancient Egyptian religion in desperate need of more accurate noises to make during ceremonies. it is still an exciting development that opens the door for more impressive things in the future.

This article may appear in some platforms with a collage cover photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.