Egypt aborts controversial pyramid renovation plan

An Egyptian man rides his camel as he looks for tourists next to Giza
An Egyptian man rides his camel as he looks for tourists next to Giza Pyramids after re-opening for tourism, in Egypt, Monday, Feb.14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Egypt has decided to abandon a contentious proposal to reapply ancient granite cladding on the pyramid of Menkaure, the smallest among the trio of great pyramids at Giza, as confirmed by a committee assembled by the country’s tourism minister.

The announcement was made by Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who had unveiled the plan the previous month, touting it as “the project of the century”.

However, the revelation that alterations might be made to the ancient structure sparked widespread international criticism, leading Egypt’s antiquities authority to reassess the initiative. The pyramids represent the sole surviving wonder of the ancient world.

Alone among the pyramids, Menkaure was designed to be clad in granite rather than limestone. Only 16 to 18 layers of granite were installed before construction was halted, apparently because Menkaure died in about 2503 B.C.

Over the centuries, pilfering, weathering and collapse caused many layers to disappear, leaving only seven layers in modern times, although numerous fallen granite blocks remain strewn around the pyramid’s base.

Waziri said the project to replace the granite would proceed only after a year of scanning and documentation.

“The Menkaure Pyramid Review Committee has unanimously objected to the reinstallation of the granite casing blocks, scattered around the base of the pyramid since thousands of years ago,” the committee said in a statement on Thursday.

Zahi Hawass, a former minister of antiquities who headed the committee, said it would be impossible to determine where each block had originally been. Replacing them would also require cement, which would ruin the pyramid.

“What I want to say is don’t worry, the pyramids of Giza are safe, and nothing will happen to them,” Hawass told Reuters. “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 seven-member committee gave initial consent to excavate Menkaure pyramid’s boat pits, akin to the Pharaonic bark pits found alongside Khufu’s pyramid adjacent to Menkaure’s, but only after a “clear and detailed scientific study”.