An international and interdisciplinary team, led by David Howard, a professor of electronic engineering at Royal Holloway, have reproduced the voice of an ancient Egyptian priest, Nesyamun.
The mummy has spent about two centuries on display at Leeds City Museum in the United Kingdom.
The team used computed tomography (CT) scanning technology to measure the dimensions of the vocal tract of Nesyamun. Next, the team used those measurements to 3D-print an artificial vocal tract. By doing that, the team produced sounds using a peculiar electronic device called the Vocal Tract Organ.
Professor Howard added; "The Vocal Tract Organ, a first in its own right, provided the inspiration for doing this."
Nesyamun's priestly duties included chanting and singing the daily liturgy. Centuries later, scientists have given us a glimpse of the sound of his voice in the form of a vowel noise. It was reported to sound like a cross between the English pronunciation of the vowels in "bed" and "bad".
However, given the lack of actual recordings of his voice, and the degeneration of his body over millennia, scientists are still unsure how accurate their finding may be. The scientists, however, suggest that their "Voice from the Past" project offers a chance for people to "engage with the past in completely new and innovative ways".
The team's statement continued; "While this approach has wide implications for heritage management/museum display, its relevance conforms exactly to the ancient Egyptians' fundamental belief that "to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.
"Given Nesyamun's stated desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever, the fulfilment of his beliefs through the synthesis of his vocal function allows us to make direct contact with ancient Egypt by listening to a sound from a vocal tract that has not been heard for over 3000 years, preserved through mummification and now restored through this new technique."
It is indeed not the first time that scientists were able to re-create an ancient human's voice.
Back in 2016, Italian researchers used software to reconstruct the voice of an iceman who was discovered in 1991. Named Ötzi, he is thought to have died more than 5,000 years ago.
However, the "Voices of the Past" project is different because Nesyamun's mummified corpse is well preserved.
"It was particularly suited, given its age and preservation [of its soft tissues], which is unusual," Prof Howard added.
Howard also said that the next task is for Nesyamun's reconstructed voice to speak complete sentences. That it is "something that is being worked on, so it will be possible one day."
An archaeologist at the University of York, John Schofield, said that reproducing voices from history can make museum experiences "more multidimensional," and added that "There is nothing more personal than someone's voice. So we think that hearing a voice from so long ago will be an unforgettable experience, making heritage places like Karnak, Nesyamun's temple, come alive."