Scientists Recreate the Voice of Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old Iceman

By | October 6, 2016

After 5,300 years at the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Ötzi broke his silence with a deep male voice.

The "best possible approximation" of Ötzi the Iceman's voice has been reconstructed by scientists who aimed to discover the timbre and color of his Stone Age vowels.

He spoke Italian -- but just vowels, as you can hear below.

"We can't say we have reconstructed Ötzi's original voice because we miss some crucial information from the mummy," said Rolando Füstös, chief of the ENT department at Bolzano's General Hospital.

"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. This is a starting point for further research," he added.

Reconstructing the Vocal Tract

The researchers had to face several challenges as they worked to reconstruct the structure of the 5,300-year-old mummy's vocal tract. They based their research on the CT scans of the mummy to create a model of his vocal tract.

"We had to deal with Ötzi's position, whose arm is covering his throat," said Avanzini, one of the scientists. "For our project this is the worst position you can imagine. Moreover, the hyoid bone, or tongue-bone, was party absorbed and dislocated."


With special software, the researchers moved Ötzi's arm, repositioned his skull in the erect position, reconstructed his vertebrae, from the first one (C1) closest to the skull, to the first thoracic vertebra (T1), and reconstructed and repositioned the hyoid bone, which supports the tongue.

They ended up with a complete model of the vocal tract, including the vocal cords and mouth, though they missed important data such as the tension and density of the vocal cords or the thickness and composition of the soft tissues that affect the human voice.

MRI scans would have helped the researchers getting more insights, but the technology could not be used because of the condition of Ötzi's mummified body.

"We had to rely on mathematical models and a software that simulates the way the vocal tract works," Cosi said.

Also, taking into consideration that Ötzi had a rather large head and slender body, the researchers concluded that his voice likely had a fundamental frequency between 100 Hz and 150 Hz, in line with today's average male.


Rosella Lorenzi | Seeker