3D Printing Helps 3,000-year-old Mummy 'Speak'

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January 23, 2020

A 3,000-year-old Egyptian priest has spoken again, sort of.

Scientists in the United Kingdom have used 3D printing to recreate the vocal tract of a mummified Egyptian priest and, further, to reproduce a sound that the priest would have made while he was alive.

Nesyamun mummy

The priest, Nesyamun, was a priest of the god Amun-Ra at the Temple of Amun at the Karnak temple complex. He also served as a scribe and an incense-bearer. He died about 1100 B.C., during Egypt's New Kingdom. Possible pharaohs during his lifetime include Ramses VIII, Ramses IX, and Ramses X.

The Leeds City Museum have had the mummy since 1823. Scientists have done extensive research on his remains through the years. The mummy and other items associated with it have proved popular with visitors.

The team, including Royal Holloway Professor of Electrical Engineering David Howard, chose Nesyamun's mummy because the vocal tract of the priest was still in good condition. The first step was to get a CT scan, to measure the vocal tract. Then, the team used computer software to print the vocal tract and connected the result to an artificial larynx, which was in turn connected to a speaker. What came out, Howard said, was one vowel-like syllable that sounded like something between "bad" and "bed." This was the first attempt on human remains of such a procedure for Howard, who has had success using the technique on himself and on other living people. The achievement of the one syllable was significant, Howard said, but the absence of a tongue precluded more sophisticated responses.

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