Experts recreate the voice of Ötzi the Iceman, the oldest known tattooed human in history


Discovered quite accidentally by a group of hikers in 1991 in the Oetztal Alps (in modern-day north Italy), Ötzi the Iceman had been entombed underneath an alpine glacier for nearly 5,300 years. This easily makes him Europe’s oldest natural mummy. Interestingly, a research done in 2015 also established how Ötzi (or Oetzi) is the oldest known tattooed human in history, with as many as 61 markings spread across 19 parts of his well preserved body. And now researchers have reconstructed a ‘fairly reliable approximation’ of the Iceman’s voice in accordance to the vocal components of the mummy. The result pertains to a fascinatingly deep male voice that utters a series of vowels.

This incredible project was a collaborative effort of researchers from different institutions including Bolzano’s General Hospital, National Research Council in Padova, and SINTAC Biomedical Engineering in Padova. Rolando Füstös, chief of the ENT department at the city’s General Hospital, said (to Discovery News) –

We can’t say we have reconstructed Ötzi’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. This is a starting point for further research.


Credit: Rolando Füstös

But in spite of the relatively well preserved nature of the mummy, the reconstruction was no easy feat, since Ötzi was found in an odd posture with his arm covered his throat region. Furthermore the hyoid bone (or the tongue bone) of the mummy was dislocated from its original position. So as a solution, the researchers made use of special software to virtually reposition the Iceman’s skull in an erect manner, then reconstruct his vertebrae, and finally recreated the hyoid bone. This entire scope allowed them to concoct the complete model of the vocal tract, thus accounting for the vocal cords and mouth. Piero Cosi, from the Institute of Cognitive Sciences e Technology, at the National Research Council, said –

We had to rely on mathematical models and a software that simulates the way the vocal tract works. We…tried to extract the formants of a synthesized sound ‘injected’ in the reconstructed vocal tract.

Now from the physical perspective, the experts noted that Ötzi possessed a relatively large head when compared to his generally slender torso and body. The related physiological effect on his voice would have endowed it with a fundamental frequency between 100 Hz and 150 Hz, thus drawing similarities with the modern average male.


A detailed rendering of how Ötzi might have looked like in real life.

Source: Seeker (Discovery News)

2 Comments on "Experts recreate the voice of Ötzi the Iceman, the oldest known tattooed human in history"

  1. Dattatreya Mandal | September 27, 2016 at 3:25 am |

    Actually the rendering does showcase the markings. According to the original post ( – “Consisting primarily of parallel lines, between 2 mm (or 0.07 in) and around 8 mm (approx. 0.3 in) apart, the tattoos were likely created with the help of minute incisions rubbed with tiny amounts of charcoal. Most of them measure somewhere between 7 mm (or 0.2 in) and 40 mm (or 1.5 in) in length, and around 1 mm (or 0.03 in) to 3 mm (0.1 in) in thickness. According to the researchers, the longest markings were found along the wrist of the mummy’s left hand, while the others were detected in a variety of places, including the lower parts of the legs, the right knee and also the left ankle.”

    Now if you look closely enough, the wrist showcases the marked tattoos – the longest ones on Otzi’s
    body. While the other ones are hidden beneath his trousers.

  2. It’s odd that the “detailed rendering of Ötzi might have looked in real life”didn’t include any of the “61 markings spread across 19 parts of his well preserved body.”

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