Louisville’s Then-Hotep Mummy Unwrapped

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger

For the past 100 years, an ancient Egyptian mummy dating back to 700-625 B.C. has been residing in Louisville

Meet Then-Hotep, a female Egyptian mummy who is believed to have died between the ages of 25 and 35. She’s had an eventful afterlife since being discovered in 1903 — from traveling with the St. Louis World’s Fair to floating out of her sarcophagus in the Great Flood of 1937 to being X-rayed for the first time in 1985. 

Follow the timeline below to unravel the history of Then-Hotep, whose name means, “the one who is content,” and her journey through Derby City.   

Anthropologist Virginia Smith created a clay facial reconstruction in 1989 to show what Then-Hotep may have looked like. | Photo courtesy of Kentucky Science Center

1903

Then-Hotep was discovered in the Valley of Queens in Luxor, Egypt, but despite being buried in a tomb once reserved for royalty, Then-Hotep was believed to have been a housewife based on her modestly decorated coffin. 

1904

Then-Hotep was brought to the US to be displayed at the Egyptian exhibit at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. 

Thruston Morton — who later would serve as the 33rd Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky — visited the fair and purchased the mummy to add to the Louisville Free Public Library’s natural history collection. 

Then-Hotep was displayed in the basement museum of today’s Main Library until 1937. 

1937

During the Great Flood of 1937 the library’s basement collection, along with 70% of Louisville, was submerged under water that rose 30-ft above the ground level. 

Then-Hotep floated out of her 3,500-year-old case and was found in the mud trapped beneath a piano where the 2,000 yards of linen wrapping her were also soaked in mud. 

The mummy was saved thanks to a vacuum drier at the 3rd St. Louisville Gas & Electric Company and resumed as 1 of the library’s most popular exhibits. 

Mummy coffin closeup | Photo courtesy of Kentucky Science Center

1977

The library’s museum closed in 1975 and its collection was given to what is now the Kentucky Science Center where Then-Hotep continues to be displayed today. 

1985

The mummy was X-rayed for the first time to determine her cause of death. Shattered femurs and fractures to the back of the skull were determined, but could have been caused by the mummification process or damaged in the flood.  

X-ray of Then-Hotep’s skull | Photo courtesy of Kentucky Science Center

2000

The Kentucky Science Center moved Then-Hotep into storage + for the next 5 years. Louisville Baptist Hospital East analyzed the mummy to further try to identify her age, gender, and cause of death through X-rays, endoscopic examination, CT scans, and other diagnostic imaging. 

Then-Hotep was returned to the public eye as part of the science center’s new permanent exhibit, “The World Around Us.” 

2005

Then-Hotep was returned to the public eye as part of the science center’s new permanent exhibit, “The World Around Us,” which also showcased the discoveries made during the past 5 years. 

Scientists concluded that the injuries discovered during X-rays were caused by the flood. They also found the mummy’s heart and brain were still intact — an unusual finding considering they’re removed during the mummification process — but it wouldn’t be until 2008 that they realized the remains were female. 

2021

Today you can see Then-Hotep at the Science Center in the Discovery Gallery where the museum displays natural history including a life-sized polar bear + NASA space capsule. 

Bonus

While Then-Hotep is the most famous mummy residing in Louisville, she is not the only one. Her sister Louisville mummy, Sheryet-Mehyet, has been residing at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for 120+ years.

Sheryet-Mehyet mummy | Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, James P. Boyce Centennial Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky

Learn more and see pictures of this Egyptian priestess’ journey to the Bluegrass here.

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