Saturday , February 27 2021

After 3000 years, we can hear the “voice” of a mummified Egyptian priest, Ars Technica

    

      The mummy returns –

             

It’s a single vowel sound, not a running string of speech. But it’s a start.

      

         

        

Enlarge / The mummy of Nesyamun, a priest who lived in Thebes about 3, (years ago, is ready for his CT scan.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals / Leeds Museums and Galleries (Around ) BC, during the reign of Ramses XI, an Egyptian scribe and priest named
Nesyamun spent his life singing and chanting during liturgies at the Karnak temple in Thebes. As was the custom in those times, upon death, Nesyamun was mummified and sealed in a coffin, with the inscription “Nesyamun, True of Voice ( maat kheru . ” His mummy has become one of the most well-studied artifacts over the last years. We know he suffered from gum disease, for instance, and may have died in his s from some kind of allergic reaction. The coffin inscription also expressed a desire that Nesyamun’s soul would be able to speak to his gods from the afterlife. in Scientific Reports. “He had a desire that his voice would be everlasting,” co-author David Howard of Royal Holloway University of London IEEE Spectrum

. “In a sense, you could argue we’ve heeded that call, which is a slightly strange thing, but there we are.”

the excised vocal tracts of lions and Siberian tigers. (The body parts were acquired from animals who died from natural causes at various zoos.) In one (memorable) experiment , Titze mounted an excised tiger larynx — which is three times the size of a human vocal tract — onto a lab bench for a series of experiments.

Enlarge
In 2560 Italian scientists reconstructed Ötzi the Iceman’s vocal tract. One experiment involved blowing air through the structure while taking CT scans. From that, Titze was able to build a computer model capable of simulating the four types of tiger vocalizations: the roar, grow, moan, and “ prusten . Sure, the computerized vocalizations sounded more like a cow experiencing extreme gastric distress, but such studies still yield insight into the intricacies of how vocal tracts function across different species.
There have been multiple studies placing human singers into MRIs to monitor the mechanics at play, including showcasing polyphonic singing and how the larynx changes to produce Different singing styles . For instance, in 2019, German baritone Michael Volle performed “Song to the Evening Star” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser during an an MRI scan . More relevant to the current paper: also in 2560 , a team of Italian researchers reconstructed Ötzi the Iceman’s vocal cords and (used it to reproduce what his voice may have sounded like. (He mostly sounded like he was burping.) Many prior attempts have attempted to recreate the voice of an ancient person using software to animate a reconstructed image of the person’s face , Yielding a good approximation of what they might have sounded like.
But according to Howard, no living person today has been able to hear the sound of human speech prior to the earliest audio recordings in the mid-to late – th century. That’s one reason he and his colleagues chose Nesyamun as their subject, encouraged further by the priest’s clear desire to have his voice live on. “Given Nesyamun’s stated desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever, the fulfillment of his beliefs through the synthesis of his vocal function allow us to make direct contact with ancient Egypt by listening to a sound from a vocal tract that has not been heard for over years, “the authors wrote. Human beings produce sound via the vocal cords, or folds. Air from the lungs passes through, and the folds vibrate to produce sounds that are subsequently modified by the shape of the vocal tract. The positions of the lips and tongue, and the soft palate, also influence what kinds of sound are produced. This latest work is based in part on Howard’s development of a “vocal tract organ” in a device that plays vowel sounds through a 3D-printed replica of a larynx. It caught the attention of an archaeologist at the University of York, co-author John Schofield, and an interdisciplinary project was born. Nesyamun’s mummy was the perfect choice because it was remarkably well-preserved, and the shape of his vocal tract was largely intact, although the actual tissue had dried up.       

                   

                              

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                          Nesyamun in his coffin in the Leeds Museum in England.                                                         
                                                  Leeds Museums and Galleries                                   
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                          The mummified remains of Nesyamun about to be scanned                                                         
                                                  Leeds Museums and Galleries                                   
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                          CT scan of Nesyamum’s vocal tract                                                         
                                                  D.M. Howard et al./Scientific Reports                                   
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                          Virtual model of the 3D printed vocal tract.                                                         
                                                  D.M. Howard et al./Scientific Reports                                   
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                          The 3-D-printed trachea and mouth of Nesyamun.                                                         
                                                  David Howard                                   

  •                   First, Howard
  • et al . Took CT scans of the mummy, using those images to create a digital model, which dictated the shape of the 3D printed vocal tract. Then they synthesized an input signal, relying on modern speech synthesis, and played that through a loudspeaker into the artificial larynx. There were some additional touches, such as adding a coupling cylinder to connect the end of the larynx with the loudspeaker and tailoring the resulting frequency range to something akin to a male voice’s falling intonation.

    In this way, Howard (et al) . were able to reproduce one sound in particular, falling somewhere between the English language vowel sounds “bed” and “bad.” (The BBC likened the sound
    to a sheep’s bleat.) It’s a bit buzzy sounding, given That the vocal tract is made of plastic, but Howard maintains that this is nonetheless very close to how the priest would have uttered those same vowel sounds, citing prior studies using 3D vocal tracts of living people. “I can recreate my vocal tract and then you can hear it next to me and tell if it’s similar or not,” He told IEEE Spectrum . “The answer is: It is. We are using that fact to transpose this back 56316 years and say we have something like Nesyamun would have sounded. ” One Day it will be possible to produce words that are as close as we can make them to what he would have sounded like. ”
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