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The vowel sounds of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy have been recreated by scientists in England.
A multidisciplinary team of scientists in Leeds, England have used a broad suite of technologies to recreate the vocal sounds of the famous 3,000 year-old mummified Egyptian priest Nesyamun. This scribe and priest, at the state temple of Karnak in Thebes (modern Luxor), worked during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses XI (c.1099–1069 BC) and in 1823, when his mummy first arrived in Leeds, he was immediately recognized as one of the most important mummies in Britain.
Egyptian Mummy’s Voice Synthesized From the Past
Following the unwrapping of Nesyamun’s body in 1824 his mummified remains have been on display in Leeds City Museum , but now, according to a new research paper published in the journal Nature, his vocal tract has been “synthesized” allowing people to engage with the past in what the researchers call “completely new and innovative ways”.
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The 3,000 year-old coffin of Nesyamun, on display at Leeds City Museum. (© Leeds Museums and Galleries )
The ‘ Voices from the Past ’ project claims that when ancient remains are sufficiently well-preserved, that is, when the relevant soft tissue is reasonably intact, a synthesized vowel sound can be reproduced based on the precise dimensions of vocal tracts, and this was how the 3,000 year-old mummified body of the Egyptian priest Nesyamun was made to speak.
Be Very Careful What You Wish For
Within archaeology human remains are not treated like other ‘objects’ and the researchers had to first consider the ethical issues raised by their planned research. However, they quickly concluded that their scientific techniques were non-destructive and that the potential benefits outweighed the concerns, and in their own defense, in the paper, they point out that in “Nesyamun ’s own words he expressed his desire to speak again”.
Talking to the BBC, co-author Professor Joann Fletcher, a professor of archaeology at the University of York said, “written on his [Nesyamun’s] coffin,” was his express wish to be heard in the afterlife which was part of his religious belief system , and “we’ve managed to make that wish come true,” said Professor Fletcher.
Nesyamun’s name in hieroglyphs as shown in his coffin inscriptions. ( Scientific Reports )
A Clear Ancient Voice Will Excite and Inspire
Previous attempts at recreating ancient voices required complex software to reanimate facial movements, which after a lot of guessing, yielded only approximations of people’s original voices. However, the accuracy achieved in Nesyamun’s voice, after a three millennia of silence, means museum visitors will be able to hear a sound from the mummy’s vocal tract, which the scientists think will add to “his humanity” with the potential to “excite and inspire” museum visitors.
The mummified body of Nesyamun laid on the couch to be CT scanned at Leeds General Infirmary. (© Leeds Teaching Hospitals/ Leeds Museums and Galleries )
This all began in September 2016 when Nesyamun ’s mummified body was transferred from Leeds City Museum to the nearby Computed Tomography (CT) Scanning Department at Leeds General Infirmary. There, a robot called ITK-SNAP created three-dimensional structural representations of the airway between the mummy’s larynx and lips, which in turn, enabled the creation of Nesyamun’s “ 3D-printed tract”. The ancient priest’s voice was then generated by a method used in modern speech synthesis systems called “artificial larynx sound” where single words are formed into sentences,” said Professor Fletcher.
Final segmentation view (upper) and sagittal section of the two halves of 3-D printed Nesyamun’s vocal tract (lower). The lack of tongue muscular bulk and soft palate is clear. ( Scientific Reports )
Hear the 3,000 Year-Old Priest for Yourself
If you want to hear what Nesyamun sounded like then you can listen to an audio file on this Science Mag article, or watch the video below. But be warned, it doesn’t sound like much. Remember, these are only baby steps in a new technology that will eventually recreate a new sound-scape of ancient voices. Ultimately, the researchers are aiming to recreate a version of what Nesyamun would have said at the temple at Karnak where he was a ‘ waab priest’, which according to an article in Live Science meant he had reached a certain level of purification and was therefore granted access to the inner most sacred sanctum of the temple, where he would have worshiped the statue of Amun.
A Scientific American article says the researchers think that approximating a long-dead voice, even with an admittedly imperfect simulation, could help museums make history more accessible. This is further illustrated by Dr. John Schofield, an archaeologist at the University of York in England, who said museum visitors usually only encounter the past “visually”, but with this new voice recreation technology, the encounter with history can be “more multidimensional”.
Wonders of Science: Mummified Egyptian Priest Speaks After 3000 Years
Priest Nesyamun of ancient Egypt. Source: smithsonianmag.com
The speech experts and scientists have developed ways through which they can make the deceased talk again. ‘Nesyamun’ was an ancient Egyptian priest who died approximately 3000 years ago. Scientists of this day and age have reconstructed his voice using modern-day tools and methods.
The 3D printed trachea and mouth of Nesyamun. Source: Royal Holloway, University of London
Dr Howard, one of the renowned speech experts at the University of London, used a CT scanner to create a 3D-printed version of Nesyamun’s vocal cord. He along with his team were able to generate a single note, which is believed to be the last sound Nesyamun made before embracing death. Nesyamum was the high priest of the temple of Karnak. His primary duties involved preaching and singing sacred songs to please the pharaoh of ancient Egypt.
The experts were able to replicate his vocal cord because it was intact even though the mummy was buried for over 3000 years. The people who preserved him for the afterlife took special care of his vocal cord mainly because he was known for his melodious voice. It is also said that he adored his work and wanted to continue it in the afterlife.
According to the archaeologists, the high priest of Karnak was alive and flourishing during the brutal reign of Ramses XI. Please know that Menmaatre Ramses XI reigned from 1107 BC to 1078 BC and was the tenth and last pharaoh of the twentieth dynasty of ancient Egypt.
Studies and experiments indicate that the priest died due to a severe and fatal allergic reaction when he was in his mid-50s. Furthermore, he was not healthy and had various ailments at the time of his death.
According to the experts, the process of regenerating the sound required the perfect condition of the soft tissues of the vocal cord. Hence, this experiment cannot be performed on individuals whose remains are only skeletal. Various inscriptions were found in the burial chamber of the high priest of Karnak. One of the inscriptions says: “Nesyamun, true of voice.” He even used to sing songs for the goddess Nut.
Nesyamun was a priest, incense-bearer and scribe at the Egyptian temple complex at Karnak in Thebes. He died in around 1100 BC. 
After death, his body was preserved and entombed in a coffin inscribed with hieroglyphs ready for the afterlife. His remains are now considered one of the most remarkable mummies in Britain. His body has been kept at Leeds City Museum since 1823.  Nesyamun's coffins are among the best-researched of their kind.
Originally part of a trio, Nesyamun was the only remaining mummy that was left unscathed after the Leeds Blitz bombing of 1941 which destroyed the front half of the museum. Nesyamun's remains were intact and suffered no damage, even though the inner lid to the coffin had been smashed during the bombings. 
In 1990, the Director of Leeds City Museum invited Dr. Rosalie David to undertake a new scientific study of the mummy of Nesyamun. The multi-disciplinary team was originally set up in 1973 to research the living conditions, diseases, and causes of death of the ancient Egyptian population, and also to establish formal, non-destructive methods of examining mummified remains. The International Mummy Database founded at the Manchester Museum in 1979 is widely recognised as the major centre for the collection and storage of mummy-related information.
Since 2002, the Leeds Museum has been documenting and researching both the decoration upon the coffin, and the coffin itself. This has led to a greater understanding of the nature of the roles that Nesyamun, as a priest at the temple of Karnak, would have adopted.
In 2008, the mummy was moved to a new home at the Leeds City Museum.
In 2020, after Nesyamun's throat and trachea were found to be remarkably well-preserved, scientists were able to reconstruct and simulate what the priest's voice may have sounded like.    Piero Cosi, a speech scientist who in 2016 was part of a team which roughly reconstructed the voice of another widely studied mummy, Ötzi, maintained that the reconstruction was largely speculative even with Nesyamun's almost perfectly preserved vocal tract.  
3,000-YEAR-OLD EGYPTIAN MUMMY VOICE RE-CREATED BY A TEAM OF SCIENTISTS
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."
World's Oldest Honey
We thought it would be fun to look at the three oldest known honey finds in the world as of September 2019. Just think, these honeys can still be eaten today because antimicrobial honey never goes bad.
The world’s oldest known references to collecting honey are from the 8,000 year old ancient Araña cave paintings in Valencia, Spain.
If you think the oldest honey in the world was found in King Tut’s tomb in Egypt, you would be incorrect nowadays. Honey was revered in ancient Egypt, and until recently the oldest honey in the world was indeed found in an Egyptian tomb. That 3,000 years old honey had been placed in honey pots in the tomb of deceased pharoah King Tut to keep him happy on his celestial journey to the afterlife.
Hundreds of years before that, around 2400 BCE, ancient Egyptians created hieroglyphics of beekeeping in a most appropriate location—the Sun Temple—showing honey was a central part of life in Egypt thousands of years ago.
Long before that, around 4300 BCE in the Caucuses, deep in the Republic of Georgia, an archaeological tomb site was uncovered that belonged to the Martkopi and Bedeni people from the farming Araxes-Kura culture. The tomb belonged to an important chief or leader, and he had several other people buried with him. Inside his Bronze Age burial site, called Ananauri 3, were wild berry offerings to the dead. They were still red and incredibly well preserved, despite being 4,300 years old, because they were cured with ancient honey. Even their scent was still sweet and intense with musky undertones. Many other magnificent ancient and precious burial objects were buried with the chief to accompany him to the afterlife. They were all masterfully embalmed with honey, and are therefore surprisingly well preserved.
To get a quick glimpse of the place where the world’s oldest honey was found, watch this 1:20 minute video about the 5,500 Years Old Honey find:
In 2012, it was reported that the world’s oldest honey had been discovered in 2003 in the country of Georgia, west of Tblisi, during oil pipeline construction. Archaeologists estimate the honey is about 5,500 years old. Three types of honey were found – meadow flower, berry and linden. Much like in ancient Egypt, the honeys were in ceramic vessels in the tomb of a noblewoman so they could journey with her into the afterlife.
Thanks to journalist Paul Salopek for inspiring us with his stories during a 21,000-mile walk across the face of the world, and to National Geographic for making so many fabulous facts about our ancient history available.
Our readers come from all over the world. Do you know about any ancient honey finds in your country? If so, we’d love to hear about it over on our Facebook page!
3,000 Year-Old Egyptian Mummy Speaks From The Afterlife - History
Leeds Teaching Hospitals/Leeds Museums and Galleries Scientists used a CT scan, 3D printer, and electronic larynx to recreate the voice of the 3,000-year-old mummy of Nesyamun.
Thanks to astonishing advances in 3D-printing technology, researchers have now been able to reconstruct the vocal tract of an ancient Egyptian mummy — allowing the world to hear his voice for the first time in 3,000 years.
As The New York Times reported, archaeologists resurrected the voice of an Egyptian priest named Nesyamun. He sang praises of worship at the Karnak temple in Thebes, reciting words to Egyptian gods like Nut, the ancient goddess of the sky and heavens.
When he died, his gift of melody was immortalized on his coffin with an inscription that read, “Nesyamun, true of voice.” But what exactly did Nesyamun’s voice sound like? Scientists were eager to find out.
According to a study recently published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers in England detailed their amazing efforts to reconstruct Nesyamun’s voice after three millennia.
Their basic goal was to rebuild his vocal tract. Luckily, the singing priest’s mummification had kept his throat and mouth largely intact.
“The actual mummification process was key here,” explained Joann Fletcher, an Egyptologist at England’s University of York and the paper’s co-author. “The superb quality of preservation achieved by the ancient embalmers meant that Nesyamun’s vocal tract is still in excellent shape.”
Using a CT scanner, the research team scanned the mummy to produce a 3D image of the inside of his throat. The images were then printed out using a 3D printer and combined with an electronic larynx to reconstruct “the sound that would come out of his vocal tract if he was in his coffin and his larynx came to life again,” David Howard, a speech scientist at Royal Holloway in London and another member of the research team, said.
The result is an incredible resurrection of Nesyamun’s vocal tract. So far, the high-tech replica has only produced one sound — an unclear drawl that scientists say resembles an “ah” or “eh”-sounding vowel. To some, the sound might not be too far from a cow’s moo.
“He certainly can’t speak at the moment,” Howard said. “But I think it’s perfectly plausible to suggest that one day it will be possible to produce words that are as close as we can make them to what he would have sounded like.”
The short audio clip might be anti-climatic — or even eerie depending on your perspective — but nevertheless, the reconstruction of a voice belonging to a person who lived thousands of years ago has never been done before in this particular way.
In 2016, a team of Italian researchers reconstructed the voice of Ötzi the Iceman, a caveman who lived 5,300 years ago and whose remains were discovered frozen in the Alps. Similar to Nesyamun’s case, researchers were only able to create a fairly close reconstruction of Ötzi’s vocal tract to produce a few vowel sounds.
The reconstruction of Nesyamun’s voice is a significant first step toward recreating his full sonic vocabulary and allowing him to fully “speak” once more.
Further down the line, the team hopes to be able to modify the computer software to predict speech elements, such as his tongue size and movement and the position of his jaw, so that they might create an accurate replica of his speech patterns.
David Howard/University of London The reconstruction of Nesyamun’s vocal tract made with a 3D printer.
“You can take that to its natural conclusion,” said Katherine Baxter, curator of archaeology at the Leeds City Museum and another co-author on the paper. “Could we make Nesyamun actually speak his original words as written on his coffin?”
But with the scientific breakthrough of bringing Nesyamun’s voice back to life — and ultimately having him say perhaps whatever you want — comes the question of ethics.
“When you’re taking a human being and using so much inference about what they looked or sounded like, it can be done with an agenda that you might not even be aware of,” Egyptologist Kara Cooney of the University of California (who was not involved in the study) noted.
According to archaeologists who have examined Nesyamun’s mummy up close, the ancient priest likely died in his 50s. The cause of his death was originally speculated to be strangulation but was later suggested to be from an allergic reaction, possibly from an insect sting on his tongue. That might explain why the mummy’s tongue was sticking out with no damage to his neck.
We might never know what caused the priest’s demise 3,000 years ago, but we might someday hear him speak.
Next, take a look at 29 reconstructed faces of ancient people from the Neanderthals to Jesus and listen to the only known recording of Frida Kahlo’s voice, uncovered 60 years after her death.
This 3,000-year-old Egyptian exhibit is making its North American debut in Halifax
HALIFAX -- With March breaks upon us, many Maritimers are making plans for their week-long vacation. But what about spending a day with 3,000-year-old ancient mummies?
The Musem of Natural History is providing that option with its newest exhibit, “Egyptian Mummies and Eternal Life,” but only for a limited time.
"We are very excited to be the North American debut for this incredible exhibit,” said Jeff Gray, the curator of visitor experience and exhibits at the Museum of Natural History.
Haligonians are the first on the continent to host the exhibit that showcases over 100 ancient artifacts including mummies, painted sarcophagi, funerary trousseau, and votive objects.
Pictured above are authentic canopic jars, used to store internal organs, and usually placed in a sarcophagus with a mummy. (Photo courtesy: Jeff Gray)
Gray told CTV News last week he believes the museum’s latest attraction will be a big hit.
"I think when our visitors go through and see how special these items really are, I think they'll understand that as well," said Gray.
Egyptians believed it was possible to live again after death, but the body had to be in as life-like a manner as possible for that to happen.
The ancient attraction comes from the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, Italy, where a larger museum featuring over 14,000 artifacts sits today.
Gray, who oversees the sourcing of Halifax’s exhibitions, says this one has been a long time coming.
“The exhibit has travelled extensively through Europe and China… We had been looking for an Egyptian exhibition for 10 years,” said Gray.
“They were looking to come to North America, and had a show that fit our space, budget, and schedule needs. It’s an involved process but it’s always exciting.”
Maria Cristina Guidotti, the director and curator at the National Archaeological Museum, had an interest in Egyptian culture since the age of 12 when she first visited Egypt. She studied Egyptology in University.
In an interview with CTV News last week, Maria Cristina Guidotti, the director and curator at the National Archaeological Museum said, like her, people find these types of exhibits relatable.
"I think people are fascinated because this culture is very, very, very ancient, one of the most ancient in the world,” said Guidotti. “But it's conserved very, very well. There are some objects that are the same to the objects now."
"Everyone contemplates their life, and what will happen to them when they die. The Egyptians were very interested in preparing themselves for eternal life,” said Gray.
The exhibit is divided into three rooms.
Room One: Mummification process
Pictured above is a mummified head of a young man, showcased at the Museum of Natural History.
“You will see real mummies, but you'll also see the tools that were used in the mummification process. You'd see canopic jars where organs would have been placed, funerary boxes would have been used in this process as well,” said Gray.
Room Two: Preservation artifacts
Sarcophagi were usually carved in stone, and were used to store, and preserve a corpse. Unlike a contemporary casket today, a sarcophagus was more commonly displayed above ground.
"This room, I think will be the highlight for most of our visitors,” explained Gray. “It does have the sarcophagus here in this collection… visitors will be able to see the craftsmanship, the attention to detail, a lot of the artistry that is done both inside, and outside a sarcophagus.”
“I think for a lot of visitors that are coming to an Egyptian exhibit, this room really captures, sort of that, magic and interest that people have in Egypt."
Room Three: Funerary Trousseaus
Funerary Trousseaus were goods, or personal possessions that Egyptians felt the soul of the diseased would require in their afterlife.
"In the final room is a lot of the household items, things that meant a lot to them, and things they wanted to have with them in the afterlife,” explained Gray. “There are everyday items… jewelry, combs, pots, there's lots.”
Gray says having this type of exhibit in the area is a rare opportunity.
“In the last 15 years, there’s never been anything like this in the entire region. It’s not something that’s in any museum's permanent collection that you get to see on a regular basis… So, we’re working hard to bring those kinds of experiences here to Halifax,” said Gray.
The temporary exhibit is on display at the Museum of Natural History now through June 21. The museum is open Monday to Friday, 9-5 p.m., and open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. Admission prices range from about $6 for youth to $8 for adults.
In the mummification process, the body has its organs removed, has all moisture removed, and is then wrapped carefully in linen. (Photo courtesy: Jeff Gray)
3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy 'speaks' with 3D-printed vocal tract
Scientists build a 3D-printed vocal tract to give an ancient Egyptian priest the ability to speak again.
Nesyamun's coffin, on display at the Leeds City Museum
At the gigantic Temple of Karnak in ancient Thebes, around 3,000 years ago, a priest named Nesyamun practiced under Egyptian pharaoh Ramses XI. He would feed grain to sacred cattle offered to the God Amun and had the rare opportunity to read and write, as a scribe. When he died, his body was mummified and encased in a tomb that formed part of the Theban Necropolis.
Because Nesyamun's body is so exquisitely preserved, he has been the subject of many investigations by scientists and researchers since arriving at Leeds Museum in 1823. Extensive autopsies and X-rays have revealed much about his life and a history of disease, but it's the latest round of examination that we really want to shout about.
A new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports on Wednesday, details the creation of a 3D-printed vocal tract from state-of-the-art CT scans of Nesyamun's body. A collaboration of UK and German scientists used these incredibly accurate scans to visualize the larynx -- or "voice box" -- and throat of Nesyamun on a computer. This allowed them to create the 3D model of the ancient priest's vocal tract and place it over a loudspeaker that mimics the sound a human larynx can produce.
"We hear a vowel-like sound that would come from Nesyamun's mouth if his mouth were in its current position and he were alive," said David Howard, an electronic engineer at Royal Holloway University of London and first author on the paper.
The vocal sound falls between the vowels in the English words "bed" and "bad," according to the paper. Upon hearing the sound, my first question was, "what am I listening to?" But it's important to note this is one vocal sound for a single vowel -- it hasn't re-created running speech for Nesyamun.
"Vowels in different languages can be different, and his tongue has lost some of its bulk over the years, but the sound is accurate for his extant vocal tract shape," Howard notes.
There are some caveats that may change Nesyamun's vocal output: His mummified body was discovered with its mouth open (unusual for mummification processes), and parts of his mouth are missing. His vocal tract position is also re-created based on his burial position -- rather than for any specific sound.
The work re-creating Nesyamun's voice was aided by a pioneering device Howard created in 2014, known as the Vocal Tract Organ.
"The Vocal Tract Organ, a first in its own right, provided the inspiration for doing this," Howard said.
The creepy-looking device acts a musical instrument that utilizes 3D printed vocal tracts to create specific vowel sounds. Line up a number of the printed vocal tracts and you've got yourself a new way to play music. You can see the unusual prototype machine in action here.
Researchers have tried to re-create voices of ancient humans, including the famed 5,300-year-old Ötzi the Iceman, a mummified corpse discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991. This team performed similar computational work on Ötzi as Howard's team did on Nesyamun, but used digitally-recreated vowel sounds to approximate the man's voice. The Vocal Tract Organ provided a new way to recreate sounds.
The team suggest the innovative way of reconstructing vocal sounds has "implications for the way in which the past is presented to the public."
After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists
A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
The Triumph of Death. 1562.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption.
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
. that led to famine.
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
. and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
Scientists Make a 3,000-Year-Old Ancient Egyptian Mummy Talk
An image of Nesyamun's mummified body before a CT scan. Image Credit: Leeds Teaching Hospitals/Leeds Museums and Galleries.
What a day for science. Scientists have made an ancient Egyptian mummy talk.
A group of scientists has managed to accurately reproduce a voice that had not been heard for more than 3,000 years. By using state-of-the-art technology, researchers were able to hear the sound of an ancient Egyptian mummy, now resting in the Leeds City Museum in the United Kingdom
Scientists say that the mummy, called Nesyamun, was a man who lived in the time of Ramses XI (from 1099 to 1069 BC).
It is believed that Nesyamun worked as a scribe and priest in the Karnak temple in Thebes (now Luxor), so his voice is believed to have been one of his more important tools during his life. Due to his status in Egyptian society, he was mummified and buried in a sarcophagus.
Through the hieroglyph symbols inscribed on his sarcophagus, which convey his posthumous message, the priest asked that his soul receive eternal sustenance, that he could move freely and speak with the gods as he had done during his earthly life. Now, with the help of science, this 3,000-year-old man can speak again, from beyond the Earthly realm.
The study authors stated that Nesyamun would be pleased with this postmortem re-creation of his voice and that it was a “fulfillment of his belief” to have his voice heard in the afterlife.
Scientists scanned the mummy and created a three-dimensional model of his mouth and throat, which enabled them to create a 3D printed vocal tract.
With the help of a software called Vocal Tract Organ which provides a user-controllable artificial larynx and sound source, a vowel sound is synthesized which compares favorably with vowels of modern individuals, the researchers wrote in the study.
The researchers have explained that the accurate dimensions of an individual’s vocal tract generate a sound unique to them. If the tract dimensions can be accurately established, vocal sounds can be synthesized with the help of an electronic larynx sound source and a 3-D printed vocal tract.
At the moment, the sound scientists obtained is not something that can be understood – it is merely a sound. The scientists revealed the sound is a “fundamental frequency” of Nesyamun’s voice, which sounds somewhere between the word’s “bed” and “bad.”
However, despite the massive leap forwards, the process was tedious.
“Nesyamun’s vocal tract posture is not set for speaking any specific vowel rather it is set appropriate for his burial position,” the researchers explained in Scientific Reports.
“In addition, his tongue has lost much of its muscle bulk, and his soft palate is missing.”
In the future, the researchers hope to create words and sentences. The latter will involve developing software that reproduces the size and movement of a person’s tongue, as well as the position of the jaw.
The combination of the different elements would allow approaching the new milestone. Previous attempts to reproduce an ancient voice were far off, with experts being able to only produce sounds approximate to them, by animating facial reconstructions with software.
However, Nesyamun’s voice was recreated on “an extant vocal tract preserved over three millennia,” the researchers wrote.