The Mummy Speaks

COURTESY LEEDS MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES

INTO THE SCANNER: CT scanners let scientists look inside the mummy without unwrapping him.

Earlier this year, scientists helped the mummy of an ancient Egyptian priest named Nesyamun utter his first syllable in more than 3,000 years. The researchers re-created Nesyamun’s voice using a model of the mummy’s vocal tract—the parts of its mouth and throat used for speech.

The scientists first examined Nesyamun with a CT scanner. The medical-imaging device took thousands of pictures of the inside of the mummy’s head and neck using X-rays—a type of invisible electromagnetic radiation. A computer then combined these images into a 3-D digital model of Nesyamun’s vocal tract.

No two vocal tracts are the same, says John Schofield, an archaeologist from the University of York who worked on the project. The scientists made a plastic replica of the vocal tract with a 3-D printer. They attached the tract to a contraption that makes a buzzing sound. When that buzz passes through the model, out comes the sound of Nesyamun’s voice.

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