No restoration of the Menkaure Pyramid

Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

Plans to reinstall the stone casing of the Pyramid of Menkaure on the Giza Plateau have been abandoned

Pyramid of Menkaure


“It would be impossible to ascertain the exact original position of any of Menkaure Pyramid’s casing blocks. Therefore, it is impossible to return them to their original location on the pyramid. Consequently, any re-installation of the casing blocks would change the ancient original fabric and appearance of the Pyramid, which would conceal important evidence of how the ancient Egyptians designed and built the Pyramids,” the Menkaure Pyramid Review Committee (MPRC) said in its report early this week on plans to reinstall the granite casing blocks scattered around the base of the smallest of three Giza Pyramids, the Pyramid of Menkaure.

The MPRC, reports Nevine El-Aref, was formed two weeks ago after a decree by Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa to review the restoration project for the Menkaure Pyramid on the Giza Plateau introduced by an Egyptian-Japanese archaeological team from the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and Waseda University in Japan.

“There is no way to reinstall these blocks on the pyramid,” Egyptologist and former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass, who chaired the MPRC, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “The stones of the casing scattered around the pyramid are unshaped, which make it impossible to re-erect them. Replacing them would also require using mortar or modern material, which would ruin the pyramid,” he said.

“No one can touch the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramids of Giza are safe, and nothing will happen to them,” Hawass added.

The committee has granted initial consent to carry out archaeological excavations to uncover the Menkaure Pyramid boat pits, akin to those discovered near the Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre, contingent upon the provision of clear and detailed scientific studies to be submitted before the commencement of any excavations.

It declared that the search for the boat pits should not be a priority, nor a reason for excavating the base of the Menkaure Pyramid, however. “This project should state broader, more scientific reasons for undertaking such excavations,” the committee said.

Menkaure did not complete his pyramid complex, and his successor, probably his son Shepseskaf, completed his valley temple, causeway, upper temple, pyramid enclosure wall and chapels for three subsidiary pyramids in mud brick. Menkaure had hardly started his valley temple when he died, and he had only begun to lay out the valley temple walls in large limestone blocks.  

He did not finish levelling the bedrock floor around the base of his pyramid. When work stopped, a grid of quarry blocks in the northwest corner of the pyramid court was left, as has been shown by previous excavations. At the same time, as shown by excavations carried out by Hawass during the 1990s, the builders raised the floor level at the southeast corner with large limestone blocks.

“Because Menkaure left major parts of his pyramid complex unfinished, it is unlikely that he finished ceremonial boat pits like the boat pits of Khufu and Khafre,” the MPRC said, adding that it is nevertheless possible that pits exist for the boats that brought Menkaure’s body to the pyramid for burial.

This is one suggestion for explaining the pits south of the Khufu Pyramid because they are too short for the boats they contained, and the pits themselves are not shaped like boats, while Khufu’s eastern boat pits are shaped like them.

If Menkaure did create boat pits, the committee agreed, it is unlikely that he would have located them on the west side of his pyramid. Khufu’s boat pits lie on the east and south sides of his pyramid. Khafre’s boat pits are sunk into the east side of his pyramid, north and south of the upper temple. Only the monument of Khentkawes I shows a boat on the west side extending from its southwest corner.

“Because Menkaure left his pyramid incomplete, it conveys some of the most important information available to scholars about how the early Old Kingdom Egyptians built their most gigantic and iconic pyramids. Trying to ‘restore’ the pyramid by replacing fallen casing blocks would severely damage or remove this evidence,” Hawass said.

“In archaeology, you must be very patient and not be in a hurry. If you are in a hurry, you will ruin the site,” Hawass said. “It is important for any kind of work to be done at the site of the Pyramids to follow a study that is completed first.”

The MPRC endorsed the scientific project for studying and surveying the Menkaure Pyramid, organising the fallen granite blocks of its outer casing, and conducting excavations to uncover the sloping debris around the pyramid, as well as the cleaning and organisation of the site for visitors.

However, it affirmed that no scientific or archaeological activities in the project should commence until the presentation of a comprehensive research proposal, including a detailed scientific work plan, for discussion. This will be submitted to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities for coordination with UNESCO and presentation to the Permanent Committee for Ancient Egyptian Antiquities.

The proposal should state the sources of funding to carry out the project and the time frame required for implementation, as well as a list of team members and résumés for each. A risk assessment and the impact on the environment, cultural heritage, and tourism should be provided, including the size of the adjacent or surrounding space needed to accommodate workers and machinery such as cranes, winches, transport vehicles, and other devices, to implement the project.

The work team should consist of skilled archaeologists experienced in the best practices of stratigraphic excavation and recording, in addition to an architectural historian with experience in ancient Egyptian architecture and restoration and an engineer experienced in cultural heritage and restoration.

The project director should be employed full-time on the Menkaure Pyramid. He should not be otherwise employed or assigned other duties within the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Before starting, the project must gather a bibliography and consider information from all prior publications and reports and make this available to the scholarly community and public.

The MPRC is chaired by Hawass and consists of six engineers and archaeologists from Egypt, the US, the Czech Republic, and Germany.

They are Mamdouh Al-Damati, a former minister of antiquities and supervisor of the Egyptology Section at the Faculty of Archaeology at Ain Shams University; Hani Hilal, a former minister of education and professor of engineering at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University; Mustafa Al-Ghamrawi, former head of the Civil Engineering Department at Cairo University; Mark Lehner, director and president of Ancient Egypt Research Associates; Dietrich Raue, head of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo; and Miroslav Bárta, director of the Czech Institute of Egyptology at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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