Ă–tzi the Iceman Sounded Like a Chain-smoker

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 22, 2016 12:52 pm

A reconstruction of what Otzi may have looked like. (Credit: Thilo Parg/Wikimedia Commons)

Ă–tzi the Iceman is speaking from beyond the grave.

It’s not a seance that brought his voice — or a rough approximation of it — to life though, but instead a careful reconstruction of his vocal cords. A team of researchers led by members of the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at Bolzano General Hospital conducted a series of CT scans of the 5,300 year old mummy’s vocal cords and vocal tract and attempted to digitally reconstruct his speech organs, according to Seeker.

They reported their results Wednesday at the 3rd Bolzano Mummy Congress in Italy, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Otzi’s discovery.

Incomplete Reconstruction

Researchers were working with incomplete information (it is a 5,300 year-old mummy, after all), so, as you will hear, it’s a very rough, very preliminary model. Still, they say that their work is a step toward recreating the voice of a man who died 5,000 years ago.

Their reconstruction is based on the length of Ă–tzi’s vocal cords and tract, both of which play an important role in modulating the sounds that emerge from our mouths. Still missing from their analysis is the tension and density of his vocal cords, as well as the structure of the soft tissues surrounding his mouth and throat.

Based on their work, they say that his voice likely had a fundamental frequency somewhere around 100 to 150 Hertz, which is about the norm for males today. Their first attempt at reawakening Ă–tzi’s vocal cords yielded a gravely series of Italian vowels — though it isn’t clear what language he actually spoke.

World’s Oldest Mummy

Ötzi was discovered in the Ötz Valley high in the Italian Alps in 1991 by a pair of hikers. Since then, he has been poked and prodded and has starred in myriad research papers. He currently is on display at Bolzano’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Today, we know that he died from an arrow wound to the shoulder, and that he suffered from a few health complications, including broken ribs, whipworm and arterial disease.

The researchers had to overcome a few problematic conditions to create their vocal model, par for the course when working with someone who’s been frozen for more than 50 centuries. Ă–tzi died with his arm draped across his throat — the exact area the researchers needed to study. In addition, his hyoid bone, which forms the base of the tongue, was dislocated and partially degraded.

MRI scans, which would have helped provide additional information, risked causing damage to his fragile body, so the researchers were forced to rely on X-rays. Using data from the scans and computer algorithms that model the movements of the vocal cords, the researchers could digitally manipulate his body, moving the offending limb and putting his tongue back into place.

This latest perspective on who Ötzi was and how he lived is just another effort in what is becoming a comprehensive examination of the Iceman. Since his discovery, Ötzi has had his genome sequenced, his stomach contents examined, his tattoos mapped, his clothes reconstructed, his blood cells analyzed and his relatives located. This scientific scrutiny is well-founded — Ötzi is one of the oldest and best preserved bodies ever found, and the details of his life flesh out a prehistoric society for us like no bones or artifacts can.

The addition of his voice to the list of scientific inquests into his life helps to bring him to life, but it could also be potentially used for other mummies around the world as well. Perhaps someday these ancient bodies could tell tales in their own voices.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology
  • OWilson

    His “voice” is probably like his “photo”.

    He wa obvously a concerned hippie enviro activist who was worried about the environment, and wants to send that message from the grave!

    Look at those eyes! You can see he cares! Is that a tear?

    • Obsbi

      he looks like the guy I see everyday in front of the supermarket with his wine bottle half hidden: “my friend, do you got some change?”

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    MRI scans, which would have helped provide additional information, risked causing damage to his fragile body” REALLY? Does he contain ferrous alloy deposits? Do extended fMRI sessions detectably cook brains? Brains are delicate tissue – hydraulically suspended in an armored vault and highly dependent upon fine structure for function.

    Consider a contemporary corpse as control baseline. Do reconstructions of the cadaver’s voice match recordings of it prior to death? This is not science. This is New World Order histrionics.

  • mjazzguitar

    Some say that he had cannabis with him.

  • Robert Fuchs

    “Ă–tzi’s vocal cords yielded a gravely series of Italian vowels…”

    That’s crap. Languages as we know them today didn’t exist. And if they existed and were similar to today’s languages, Ă–tzi’s vocal cords would yield a gravely series of *German* vowels, not Italian.

    • internetwalker

      They are alphabets in Tamil language

  • LEK56

    eep, opp, ork, ah, ah.

  • Amerillo.Cubo

    So he sounded like one of those text-to-speech generators.

  • internetwalker

    Language in the audio seems like tamil language

  • Baird Brutscher

    Uncle Al lives for this. I always scroll down to read Uncle Al tangentially and ramblingly relating what’s being discussed to infowars type garbage that old angry white men read to confirm their narcissistic belief that there’s a global conspiracy against old angry white men and all scientists, biologists and archaeologists are in on it. (yes Uncle Al I’m sure you’re 1/16 Cherokee or whatever like most old angry white men claim to be so nothing I say has any ring of truth) Notice “autodidact” Theeere we go. Meaning he “educates himself” which in this case means a serious confirmation bias toward the batshit alt right and using big words to disguise his basic impotence as a human being. There is not a single thing discussed here that doesn’t have him bringing up the new world order or Fema camps or Eugenics or something that we’re all too blind to see because we’re not Uncle Al, who is getting old, and dying and like many aging baby boomers assumes the world is and should be dying with him.”congenitally inconsequential” indeed. I’m thinking at this point he’s a parody account because if this is a real person somebody should be searching his freezer for body parts.

    • LEK56

      My apologies. I was in a lousy mood that day. :)


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