Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Some 3,000 years after he died, Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest, is uttering vowels. The sounds aren't coming from the mummified priest himself, but from a computerized voice box.
To best understand what Nesyamun would have sounded like, researchers in Britain used CT scans to image and measure the dimensions of his voice tract. Scientists then used the images to build a 3D-printed model called the Vocal Tract Organ.
Scientists combined the 3D voice box with an artificial larynx, commonly used for artificial speech, to produce a vowel-like sound similar to the baa of a sheep.
"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," David Howard, professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, said in a news release.
Howard was approached by John Schofield, professor of archaeology and cultural heritage at the University of York, about using the technology to investigate the voices of the past.
The researchers settled on Nesyamun as their first subject. The mummified priest's vocal box was surprisingly well preserved.
Howard and Schofield described their effort to bring Nesyamun's voice back to life in a new paper, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.
"It has been such an interesting project that has opened a novel window onto the past and we're very excited to be able to share the sound with people for the first time in 3,000 years," Howard said.
Nesyamun served at a state temple of Karnak in Thebes during the reign of pharaoh Ramses XI, who ruled from 1099 to 1069 BC. Nesyamun and his vocal tract would have been required to sing as part of his daily duties as a state priest.
"The voice is such a significant part of being human, and every voice is distinctive," Schofield said. "As an archaeologist, the opportunity of recreating a voice from the past with greater accuracy than has even been done before was an exciting and unexpected prospect."
In addition to exciting scientists, the new technology could offer a fresh way to engage with and excite visitors to museums. Visitors to the Leeds Museum where Nesyamun is on display will not only get to see the ancient Egyptian, but also hear what he sounded like.