Egypt Halts Controversial Plans to Renovate Ancient Pyramid

A committee of experts concluded that altering the Pyramid of Menkaure would compromise its historical value

Crane Moving Blocks
In late January, workers began moving the Pyramid of Menkaure's granite blocks, many of which were abandoned around the structure's base. Khaled Desouki / AFP via Getty Images

Just weeks after the project was announced, Egypt has scrapped its plans to renovate one of Giza’s great pyramids, according to a review committee.

Built around 2500 B.C.E., the 200-foot-tall Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of Giza’s three pyramids. It was dedicated to the pharaoh Menkaure, who ruled during ancient Egypt’s fourth dynasty.

Part of the great tomb was once cloaked in granite blocks rather than limestone. However, ancient Egyptian builders had only installed 16 to 18 layers of these blocks by the time construction was halted upon Menkaure’s death. Many granite blocks were left at the pyramid’s base, never to be placed, and millennia of weathering and vandalism reduced the pyramid’s casing to just seven granite layers, as Reuters’ Patrick Werr reports.

Just last month, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced its plan to restore the pyramid’s granite casing in a three-year renovation effort. This “project of the century”—as Mostafa Waziry, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, called it—was met with backlash from researchers around the world.

Monica Hanna, an archaeologist and Egyptologist at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport, shared a statement on behalf of a group of archaeologists who called the plan “entirely unscientific.”

“We cannot finish the work the ancient Egyptians have left us,” Hanna told Stephen Snyder of the public radio program “The World.” “It has to remain unfinished.”

In response to the pushback, Egyptian officials called in a team of experts to review the renovation plan. Led by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister of antiquities, the Menkaure Pyramid Review Committee “unanimously objected to the re-installation of the granite casing blocks scattered around the base of the pyramid,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The committee presented a report to Ahmed Issa, Egypt’s tourism minister, emphasizing “the importance of maintaining the pyramid’s current state without alterations, given its exceptional universal and archaeological value.”

“The committee said that it would be impossible to ascertain the exact original position of any of the casing blocks,” per the statement. “Therefore, it is impossible to return any of 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.”

Additionally, the modern cement that would be necessary to replace the granite blocks would damage the pyramid, as Hawass tells Reuters.

“The pyramids of Giza are safe, and nothing will happen to them,” he adds. “People everywhere are calling me, writing letters, emails. They are worried. Don’t be worried at all; the pyramids are safe, and no one can touch the Pyramid of Menkaure.”

The committee has endorsed a forthcoming survey and study of the pyramid, per the statement, including “organizing 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 organization of the site for visitation.” However, that process will not begin until a “comprehensive research proposal”​ is presented.

Following the reversal, Hanna celebrated Egyptian officials’ decision to listen to experts and halt the project.

“I thank all the people, one by one, who stood in the right to protect Egyptian heritage,” she wrote in a Google-translated post on X (formerly Twitter). “Today, science won.”

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.