After 3,000 years of lying silent, an Egyptian mummy’s voice has been heard for the first time.
Nesyamun was a priest who lived under the tumultuous reign of pharaoh Rameses XI between 1099 and 1069 BCE, working at the temple of Karnak in Thebes, modern Luxor. His voice would have been a key part of his duties, from chanting and singing to talking.
His last wish, etched on his sarcophagus, was for his voice to be heard in the afterlife. Following the groundbreaking work of researchers across the UK, his wish has been granted.
You can hear what the mummy sounds like in the video below:
Academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, the University of York and Leeds Museum came together to recreate Nesyamun’s vocals via the wonder of 3D-printing – their findings have since been published in the Scientific Reports journal.
By reproducing the mummy’s vocal tracts – after scanning the corpse to ensure the dimensions were correct – and using an artificial larynx (organ more commonly known as the voice box) sound, the team were able to conjure a synthesised vowel sound said to be similar to the tone of Nesyamun’s voice.
Professor David Howard, head of the department of electronic engineering at Royal Holloway, University of London and co-author of the study, told The Guardian:
What we have done is to create the sound of Nesyamun as he is in his sarcophagus. It is not a sound from his speech as such, as he is not actually speaking. Our larynx sound is electronic and if that sound were produced by Nesyamun, he would be passing lung air outwards via his larynx where his vocal folds would be vibrating to create the same effect.
The feat was made possible by how well-preserved the mummy was. It’s suspected that Nesyamun died from an allergic reaction after an insect bite – explaining his tongue sticking out but also why there was no damage to the bones around his neck.
Co-author Prof Joann Fletcher, a professor of archaeology at the University of York, told BBC News that their research has given them a ‘unique opportunity to hear the sound of someone long dead’.
Commenting further on the significance of Nesyamun’s wish, Prof Fletcher said:
Every Egyptian hoped that after death their soul would be able to speak, in order for them to recite the so-called ‘negative confession’ telling the gods of judgement that they had led a good life. Only if the gods agreed could the deceased soul pass through into eternity – if they failed the test they died a second, permanent death.
Following their successful findings, the team hope to ‘create a version of what he would have said at the temple at Karnak’ in the future. If you’d like to see the mummy of Nesyamun, his remains are on display at Leeds City Museum.