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Conservation of Ötzi, the Iceman.

Making the Dead Speak: Scientists Plan to Recreate the Voice of Otzi the Iceman

Italian scientists are attempting to give Ötzi the Iceman a voice. By using CT scans of his throat and the tissue around his voice box, the researchers believe there is a chance to recreate the sounds of his voice with sophisticated software.

The Independent reports that the researchers plan to recreate the “timbre and color” of Ötzi’s voice. With that information “specialists in Bolzano and Padua plan to get the world’s oldest mummy to “speak” stone-age vowels.”

Rolando Füstös, an ENT consultant at San Maurizio Hospital, who is leading the new project, told the Independent that there are particular difficulties the team has to face by working with the 5,300-year-old, body conserved in a sterile, glass box at 7˚C (44.6 ˚F) and 100% humidity:

“For a start, we can’t use MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans because of the condition of the mummified body. The other problem is the position he’s in, with his arm across his throat, which makes the CT scanning more difficult. But providing there are no more unforeseen difficulties, I’m fairly confident we will be able to synthesize the sound of his voice within the next few months.”

Regarding what the scientists are planning for Ötzi to say, Dr. Füstös clarified, “Obviously we don’t know what language he spoke back then, but we will, I think, be able to reproduce the colour or timbre of his vowel sounds and show how they might be different in the way that Sicilians or people from London, say, pronounce the letter ‘a’ differently.”

Actor Mark Noble plays Ötzi in the 2005 TV program ‘The Iceman Murder.’

Actor Mark Noble plays Ötzi in the 2005 TV program ‘The Iceman Murder.’ ( BBC)

Dr. Füstös said that his team are now working on developing sound files that could be used as part of the exhibition at the Iceman Institute in Bolzano.

Ever since Ötzi, commonly known as “The Iceman”, was first discovered by some German tourists in a glacier in Oetz Valley, Austria, in 1991, he has been the source of numerous tests. Since then, practically every aspect of his life has been studied. Research has revealed his age, how he died , what he wore , and what he ate . His genome has also been decoded and furthermore, some of his relatives have been found .

Image of the Iceman in a glacier in Oetz Valley, Austria.

Image of the Iceman in a glacier in Oetz Valley, Austria. ( CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Even his tattoos were subjected to scrutiny. As Ancient Origins reported in 2013, the tattoos may have been a form of ancient acupuncture. The scientists from the 2013 study explained: “Radiological images of the tattooed areas show degenerative areas under the tattoos that could have caused pain, as the tattooing spots lie approximately over the acupuncture medians, it seems common opinion that they could have been use for that.”

The Iceman’s body with 61 tattoos . ( South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology )

Ötzi’s tattoos suggested that he may have been suffering from ailments like rheumatism and arthritis. Helicobacter pylori has been recently added to the list of Ötzi’s health issues, which also include heart and gum disease  and gallbladder stones as well.

Researchers take a sample from Iceman's hip in 2014.

Researchers take a sample from Iceman's hip in 2014. Image credit: Samadelli Marco/EURAC

The endless stream of testing has led some to wonder when the body of the famous Iceman will ever be able to rest in peace. Dr. Albert Zink, the scientist in charge of Ötzi’s preservation said “There has been some discussion on this. But this man is 5,300 years old. We do treat him with respect; and, besides, even if we were to bury him, we wouldn’t be able to do it according to his customs because we don’t know what they were.”

Featured Image: Conservation of Ötzi, the Iceman. Source: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

By Alicia McDermott

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