Otzi Speaks: Scientists Reconstruct Voice of 5,300-Year-Old Iceman
Scientists have made the best approximation of the voice of Otzi the Iceman, the world-famous mummy who met a violent death in the mountains of Austria around 5,300 years ago. His voice was replicated through a reconstruction of his vocal tract, throat and mouth. The experiment, which was conducted to honor the 25 th anniversary of Ötzi’s discovery, brings ‘life’ to the ancient mummy.
The mummy of Ötzi was discovered by German tourists in the Ötztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy in 1991. He was originally believed to be the frozen corpse of a mountaineer or soldier who died during World War I, but tests later confirmed the Iceman dates back to 3,300 BC and died from a blow to the back of the head. He is Europe's oldest natural human mummy and, remarkably, his body contained the still intact blood cells, which resembled a modern sample of blood. They are the oldest blood cells ever identified. His body was so well-preserved that scientists were even able to determine that his last meal was red deer and herb bread, eaten with wheat bran, roots and fruit.
The mummy of Otzi, as it was found (vaxzine / flickr)
Due to his incredible state of preservation, Ötzi is among the world's most intensively studied mummies. His genome was decoded from a hip bone sample, enabling scientists to track down modern-day descendants, and his state of health, as well as cause of death were determined through scans and analyses. Now scientists have added to the knowledge of the Stone Age mummy by recreating his voice.
Naturalistic reconstruction of Ötzi - South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (public domain)
Seeker.com reports that scientists replicated his voice to the best possible approximation primarily through the measurements of the length of his vocal tract and vocal cords. However, they also had to reconstruct the entire structure of the vocal tract, which was the main challenge.
"We had to deal with Ötzi's position, whose arm is covering his throat," Francesco Avanzini, ENT specialist, told Discovery News. "For our project this is the worst position you can imagine. Moreover, the hyoid bone, or tongue-bone, was party absorbed and dislocated."
In order to create a complete model of the vocal tract, including the vocal cords and mouth, the researchers “moved Ötzi's arm, repositioned his skull in the erect position, reconstructed his vertebrae, from the first one (C1) closest to the skull, to the first thoracic vertebra (T1), and reconstructed and repositioned the hyoid bone, which supports the tongue,” reports Seeker.com. The scientists then ‘injected’ synthesized sound into the reconstructed vocal tract.
The research team has acknowledged that it is impossible to recreate the precise sound of his voice without data related to the tension and density of the vocal cords of the composition of the soft tissues of the throat.
One of the challenges was reconstructing the vocal tract considering his throat was blocked by his arm (public domain)
It is not known what language Otzi spoke 5,000 years ago, but the timbre of his vowel sounds were replicated and scientists also hope to create a simulation of consonants. The results of the study add to the wealth of information about Otzi, the ancient Stone Age man.
Top image: A reconstruction of the face of Otzi the Iceman. (Simon Claessen / Flickr)