Often it’s mainly the titles of these pieces that are funny, or strange, but in a lot of cases it pays to read the whole article. Today’s entry in the Best of PubMed series dips a bit deeper into two of the articles. The first concerns the effects of laughing gas. In the second, scientists produce a sound from a mummy – apparently in an attempt to bring an ancient Egyptian back to life! I’ve included quotes from the articles and some commentary…
A Strange Freak
Am J Dent Sci. 1876 Jan; 9(9): 427.
“The New York Herald states that Miss Sarah Ward, aged 28, daughter of Judge Ward, who resides at Tompkinsville, Staten Island, visited a New York dentist on Monday to have some teeth extracted, and took laughing gas. She remained under the influence of the gas for a considerable time, and when she finally recovered the idea seemed to have struck her that it would be a good joke to frighten her folks at home by telegraphing to the Rev. A. N. Stanley, rector of St. Paul’s, that she was dead. She accordingly sent a dispatch to the rector, who was preaching at the time in observance of St. Andrew’s day, that she died from the effects of inhaling laughing gas. The startling announcement caused great consternation among the congregation, the young lady being well known to them all. The services were at once concluded, and word was sent to her father, who hastened to the dentist’s place of business, where he was surprised as well as overjoyed to learn that his daughter had but a short time previously left for home in excellent health. When asked by her parents what induced her to send such a dispatch, she said that she did it for fun.”
Synthesis of a Vocal Sound from the 3,000 year old Mummy, Nesyamun ‘True of Voice’
D. M. Howard, J. Schofield, J. Fletcher, K. Baxter, G. R. Iball, S. A. Buckley
Sci Rep. 2020; 10: 45000. Published online 2020 Jan 23. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-56316
“The sound of a 3,000 year old mummified individual has been accurately reproduced as a vowel-like sound based on measurements of the precise dimensions of his extant vocal tract following Computed Tomography (CT) scanning, enabling the creation of a 3-D printed vocal tract. By using the Vocal Tract Organ, which provides a user-controllable artificial larynx sound source, a vowel sound is synthesised which compares favourably with vowels of modern individuals.
In other words, they performed CT scans to establish the positions of the vocal chords, larynx, throat and mouth of a mummy. After that, the article states:
“Following the scans, a 3-D printed tract was created for Nesyamun and designed to be used with the Vocal Tract Organ17 which provides an appropriate acoustic larynx source as a time domain waveform synthesis of the Liljencrants-Fant (LF) larynx source which is commonly employed in speech synthesis18. The fundamental frequency, loudness and vibrato rate and depth can be individually controlled. The tract incorporates a coupler at its larynx end that is designed to fit snugly over the output end of an Adastra model 952-210 (16 ohm, 60 Watt) loudspeaker drive unit.”
I don’t understand all this, but somehow they got the thing to make a sound. The result: a vowel that lies somewhere between what you hear in the words “bed” and “bad.”
Why would someone do all this? Apparently they were trying to bring the mummy back to life. (I am only partly kidding.) Here’s what the authors write:
“…Within ancient Egyptian culture… the name was regarded as essential to an individual as their physical (mummified) body and their soul (ka) and spirit (ba). It was also a fundamental belief that ‘to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again’ (alternatively translated: ‘a man is revived when his name is pronounced’), both by living relatives and by the deceased themselves when appearing before the gods of judgement. Only those able to verbally confirm that they had led a virtuous life were granted entry into eternity and awarded the epithet ‘maat kheru’, ‘true of voice’, as applied to Nesyamun himself throughout his coffin inscriptions. In these texts, Nesyamun asks that his soul receives eternal sustenance, is able to move around freely and to see and address the gods as he had in his working life. Therefore his documented wish to be able to speak after his death, combined with the excellent state of his mummified body, made Nesyamun the ideal subject for the ‘Voices from the Past’ project.“
In conclusion, the authors write,
“This innovative interdisciplinary collaboration has produced the unique opportunity to hear the vocal tract output of someone long dead by virtue of their soft tissue preservation and new developments in technology, digital scanning and 3-D printing.”
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