Pyramid of Menkaure – Giza, Lower Egypt. On the south-western corner of the Giza Plateau, the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus) stands in alignment with its larger neighbours. Menkaure was Khafre’s son and his monument, by far the smallest of the three Giza pyramids, was called ‘Menkaure is Divine’.
The pyramid appears to have been unfinished at the death of the king and was completed in mudbrick by Menkaure’s son Shepseskaf, and later additions were built to his temples during Dynasties V and VI, suggesting that his mortuary cult was still flourishing then. The king ruled for around eighteen years and an inscription in the pyramid’s entrance (thought to have been carved by Khaemwaset, son of Rameses II) gives the day and month of his death. The casing blocks on the upper parts of the pyramid were probably of white limestone, but the lower courses were sheathed in rougher pink granite. This suggests that the final casing was done from the top, downwards and adds to the theories of the pyramid being unfinished. The granite casing blocks can still be seen around the modern entrance.
A great gash was made in the northern side of the pyramid during the Mamaluke era, in the 12th century AD, but the first Europeans to enter the monument were Perring and Vyse in 1837, who found a basalt sarcophagus which was shipped off to England in the Beatrice – only to meet with the disastrous fate of being lost at sea when the ship was wrecked in the Mediterranean. The pyramid was later properly excavated by Reisner and the Harvard University Expedition from 1906 to 1924.
The entrance to Menkaure’s pyramid, on the northern side about 4m above ground level, leads to a descending corridor opening into a short horizontal passage and a decorated chamber with carved stone panels, reminiscent of palace façade motifs, but the significance of this unusual decoration is unknown. A horizontal corridor leads into a large rectangular antechamber, oriented east to west, which seems to have undergone a number of changes before being completed and may have been intended as an earlier burial chamber. This room was also reached by another descending passage (known as the upper corridor) which runs above the lower corridor from the pyramid’s base. When the plan was changed, the floor of the large antechamber was lowered which meant that the upper corridor came out near the ceiling and so was abandoned. Vyse discovered remains of a wooden anthropoid coffin in this room, which bore the name of Menkaure and contained human remains, but these have subsequently proven to be of a much later date than the pyramid. Another passage leads down from the floor of the antechamber to the burial chamber. Before the burial chamber is reached there is another room which has six deep niches – four in the east and two in the north – which may have been used to hold funerary goods, or the canopic jars of the king.
The rectangular barrel-vaulted burial chamber in the bedrock below the pyramid is lined with pink granite and oriented north to south and it was here on the west wall that Vyse found the beautiful basalt sarcophagus of the king. The lost sarcophagus had carved panel decoration in a recessed ‘palace-façade’ design.
Menkaure built three queen’s pyramids on the southern side of his monument, though the largest eastern one (G3-a), which has a T-shaped substructure, was perhaps first intended as a satellite cult pyramid, but later presumably used for the burial of a queen, as were all three satellite pyramids, which had mudbrick chapels attached. The rock-cut burial chamber in G3-a once contained a pink granite sarcophagus embedded into the floor, and charred remains of wood and matting were found there. It was possibly the burial place of Menkaure’s Chief Wife, Khamerernebty II, who is thought to be buried at Giza. The central queen’s pyramid (G3-b) was found to contain a pink granite sarcophagus and the bones of a young woman, while the third pyramid (G3-c) was unfinished and had no traces of a burial.
The remains of the king’s mortuary temple are still visible on the eastern side of the pyramid and this was also found to have been hastily completed. It appears that it was begun in locally quarried massive blocks of limestone, with the intention of facing the inner and outer walls with black granite, but in fact they were mostly finished in painted plaster over mudbrick, presumably by Shepseskaf. The structure was built around a rectangular courtyard, leading to a portico with a double colonnade flanked to the north and south by store-rooms and niches and to the inner sanctuary. The temple is actually better preserved that Khafre’s mortuary temple and Reisner’s team found the evidence of construction techniques very interesting. Fragments of royal statues were found in the temple.
Menkaure’s causeway was apparently completed by Shepseskaf, in mudbrick rather than limestone, but never reaching as far as his valley temple. Reisner’s excavations of the sand-covered valley temple revealed several very fine statues of Menkaure which display the superb quality of Egyptian art from this period. Three complete triads and one fragmentary, showing the king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt with the goddess Hathor and four different nome deities (now in Cairo and Boston Museums), were uncovered in 1908 and the famous perfectly preserved dyad depicting Menkaure with an unnamed queen (possibly his Chief Wife Khamerernebty II), were found in 1910 (Cairo Museum). Two different phases of construction were found in the valley temple, the earlier parts built from stone and the later parts in mudbrick. An inscription in the valley temple indicated how Shepseskaf completed the temple in memory of his father. It was completely rebuilt during Dynasty VI, probably by Pepy II.
Reisner found evidence of huge clay walls, workshops and lodgings of the pyramid-builders in front of Menkaure’s valley temple and houses which later invaded the temple walls. It is not surprising that recent excavations by Mark Lehner’s team have again begun to uncover this vast city of workers who built and maintained the pyramids for generations afterwards. Since 1988 excavations have been concentrated around the area about 300m south of the Sphinx and the gigantic structure known as the ‘Wall of the Crow’, near to a recently discovered ‘worker’s cemetery’. So far they have uncovered bakeries, a copper workshop, and worker’s houses which, in the year 2000 were found to belong to a vast royal complex comprising huge galleries or corridors, separated by a paved street. The royal palace?
Other recent excavations around the pyramid of Menkaure have been conducted by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation in search of evidence of the king’s funerary boats and the pyramid’s construction ramp. They have discovered an unfinished double-statue of Rameses II, sculpted from a single block of stone and measuring over 3m tall – the first large New Kingdom statues to be discovered at Giza, and yet another mystery.
The three main pyramids are open on an annual rotation with one of them being closed for restoration each year. Tickets on sale at 8:00am and 1:00pm and cost EGP 25.