Nesyamun was an Egyptian priest, from the era of Pharaoh Ramses XI, who had a single request before he died. He wanted his voice to carry on long after his death. Everyone in the room looked around and used only their eyes to silently ask each other "Do you know how to do that?" They gave a weakened Nesyamun a reassuring "uh, yeah, sure thing, bud ..." allowing him to die happy, knowing that his very good close friends, who would never lie to him, were definitely going to fulfill his dying wish. They didn't. But a team of researchers from England has made his wish come true about 3,000 years later.
The mummification process preserved Nesyamun's larynx enough that the researchers were able to make digital models and, eventually, 3D printed replicas of his vocal tract. They attached the replica to a special fancy speaker thing that passed a burst of sound through the fake vocal cords to, hopefully, re-create a voice from the distant past so that it may share its secrets with us. You can hear the sound it made in the video below from Live Science, whose choice of putting 29 seconds of ominous dramatic music before they drop the sound then rapid-fire it over and over might be one of the funniest moments in the history of scientific reporting.
What the researchers have done here is undoubtedly cool despite how much of a letdown the sound is. When I saw the headline in the New York Times that dramatically claimed "The Mummy Speaks!", with exclamation point and all, I got psyched hoping that he would speak for the first time in three millennia to reveal the location of a grand treasure or, at the very least, unleash a horrible plague that consumes the world. Instead, we got Stephen Hawking expressing his displeasure after his ice cream cone fell to the ground.
It's a good reminder that impressive scientific discoveries are often still impressive despite not meeting our Hollywood-influenced expectations. If we ever discover alien life, it'll likely be a microbe in a puddle and not a citizen of a sprawling galactic empire. Hearing a man's voice after he's been dead for 3,000 years is astonishing. It's just too bad it sounds like a tortoise having an orgasm.
Luis can be found on Twitter and Facebook. Check out his regular contributions to Macaulay Culkin's BunnyEars.com and his "Meditation Minute" segments on the Bunny Ears podcast. And now you can listen to the first episode on Youtube!