Otzi the Iceman may be dead 5,000 years, but that doesn’t mean he can’t speak to us from beyond the grave. This isn’t some Ouija board occult nonsense, though; through science, researchers have been able to approximate the sound of Otzi’s voice.
Scientists hailing from Bolzano’s General Hospital, Italy, used CT scans to produce a model of the ice mummy’s mouth, throat, and vocal cords. This allowed them to create a digital reconstruction—or the “best possible approximation”—of Otzi’s voice.
In the video below, you can hear him uttering vowels in Italian.
“We can’t say we have reconstructed Otzi’s original voice, because we miss some crucial information from the mummy,” Rolando Fustos, the study’s lead researcher, explained to Rossella Lorenzi from Discovery News.
“But with two measurements, the length of both the vocal tract and the vocal cords, we have been able to recreate a fairly reliable approximation of the mummy’s voice. This is a starting point for further research.”
He added: “The vocal cords are the source of the vocal sound, but the main contribution to it is given by the selective filtering accomplished by the vocal tract configuration.”
“Of course, we don’t know what language he spoke 5,000 years ago,” said fellow researcher Francesco Avanzini. “But we should be able to recreate the timbre of his vowel sounds and, I hope, even create simulation of consonants.”
Reconstructing those vowel sounds presented its own set of challenges. Because MRI scans would have caused Otzi damage, the team opted to use CT scans. Unfortunately, CT scans could only measure the mummy’s internal structure.
Also adding unnecessary complications was Otzi’s position when he died.
“We had to deal with Otzi’s position, whose arm is covering his throat,” stated Avanzini. “For our project this is the worst position you can imagine. Moreover, the hyoid bone—or tongue-bone—was party absorbed and dislocated.”
The scientists used special software to digitally maneuver Otzi’s arm away from his throat, as well as erect his skull. This allowed them to create a model of the vocal tract’s entire physical structure.
According to researcher Piero Cosi, the team also used mathematical models, and software that “simulates the way the vocal tract works,” to reconstruct information about the throat tissue’s composition and thickness, and the vocal cords’ density and tension.
The combined data convinced them that the frequency of Otzi’s voice was between 100 and 150 Hz—not too different from the average modern male.
The team presented the vocalizations at a congress—commemorating the discovery of Otzi in South Tyrol’s Otztal Alps 25 years ago—held at the European Research Academy (EURAC) Institute for Mummies and the Iceman located in Bolzano.
“This is a new, interesting aspect on Otzi’s research that deserves to be taken into consideration for further research,” stated the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman director, Albert Zink.
“It is a novel high-tech approach to bring ‘life’ to ancient mummies. It helps to understand the impact of post-mortem processes on the preservation of anatomical structure,” agreed Frank Ruhli, who is the President of the Scientific Board of The Neolithic Iceman, and Director of Zurich University’s Institute of Evolutionary Medicine.
The frozen mummy Otzi was found on September 19, 1991 by a pair of German hikers. A criminal investigation ensued, but it turned out Otzi wasn’t murdered recently. He was, in fact, killed between 3,350 BC and 3,100 BC. This was hundreds of years before England’s Stonehenge and the first pyramids in Egypt were built.
After numerous analyses of the corpse, scientists learned that Otzi was 46 when he died. He was brown-eyed, bearded, extremely lean, and boasted 61 tattoos. — AT, GMA News