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28 September 2016
What Oetzi the Iceman sounded like

We know what Oetzi was wearing when he died more than 5,000 years ago. We know how many tattoos he had. Now scientists have recreated the "best possible approximation" of his voice.
     Lead researcher Rolando Fuestoes explains: "We can't say we have reconstructed Oetzi's original voice, because we miss some crucial information from the mummy. 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."
     Oetzi was found by two German hikers in 1991, frozen and mummified in the Oetzal Alps in South Tyrol, and is Europe's oldest known natural mummy, providing researchers with an unprecedented glimpse into what life was like around 3,300 BCE, during the Copper Age.
     Oetzi was murdered - he most likely died from an arrow wound to his shoulder. He was dressed in a mix of sheep, goat, and cow skins, and carried a deerskin quiver and a bearskin cap. His 61 tattoos have been studied in detail. By reconstructing his voice, researchers hope to gain more insight into what humans might have sounded like.
     Francesco Avanzini, one of the researchers, says: "Of course, we don't know what language he spoke 5,000 years ago. But we should be able to recreate the timbre of his vowel sounds and, I hope, even create simulation of consonants."
     They've now succeeded with the vowel reconstruction. CT scans were used to map Oetzi's internal structure, since MRI scans could have damaged the mummy. One difficulty is that Oetzi's arm is covering his throat, and the hyoid - or tongue-bone - is party absorbed and dislocated. The tension and density of the vocal cords and the thickness and composition of the throat tissue were simulated using mathematical models.
     The team predicts that Oetzi's voice had a frequency between 100 and 150 Hz, which is similar to average males today.

Edited from Science Alert (22 September 2016)

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