The sound produced by the vocal tract of a 3,000 year-old Egyptian mummy has been synthesized using CT scans, 3D printing and an electronic larynx. The findings are presented in a study published in Scientific Reports. The acoustic output is a single sound; it does not provide the basis for synthesizing running speech.
The precise dimensions of an individual's vocal tract produce a unique sound. If the dimensions of a vocal tract can be established, vocal sounds can be synthesized by using a 3D-printed vocal tract and an electronic larynx. For this to be feasible, the soft tissue of the vocal tract needs to be reasonably intact.
David Howard and colleagues used non-destructive CT to confirm that a significant part of the structure of the larynx and throat of the 3,000 year-old mummified body of the Egyptian priest Nesyamun remained intact as a result of the mummification process. This allowed the authors to measure the vocal tract shape from CT images. Based on these measurements, the authors created a 3D-printed vocal tract for Nesyamun and used it with an artificial larynx commonly used in speech synthesis. They were able to reproduce a single sound, falling between the vowels in the English words 'bed' and 'bad'.
The authors suggest that their proof-of-concept recreation of a vocal tract preserved over three millennia has implications for the way in which the past is presented to the public in the present; it may provide an opportunity to hear the vocal tract output of an individual that lived in ancient times.