Lost sarcophagus of Pharaoh Menkaur

(ORDO NEWS) — The Pyramids of Giza are one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world. Giza itself is a gigantic burial site of ancient Letopolis.

There are three Great Pyramids here. Each of them contains a burial chamber in the rock, located approximately in the center of the main structure. There are other chambers in them, and from the outside they are a complete monumental complex.

It includes a tomb temple, a causal place (an elevated road) and a valley temple. The largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Giza, belonged to Pharaoh Khufu and is considered one of the seven wonders of the world.

The remaining two pyramids belonged to Khufu’s successors, Khafre and Menkaure. Menkaur had the smallest of the three pyramids. When his sarcophagus (stone coffin) was found in the pyramid, he was loaded onto a ship to be sent to the British Museum in London. He was never brought there.

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Statue of pharaoh Menkaur

Who was Menkaure?

Pharaoh Menkaure (Minkau-Ra) was the son of Khafre and the grandson of Khufu. He reigned as king of Egypt during the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom over 4,000 years ago. He reigned for about 22 years and died around 2500 BC. The Greek historian Herodotus describes him as a just and pious king.

He reopened the temples that had been closed during Khufu’s reign and gave the population more time for their own affairs instead of devoting themselves entirely to the service of the king. When someone complained that he was judging them unfairly, Menkaure would give the person something that belonged to him as compensation.

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People loved him, but Herodotus mentions the dark side of Menkaure. Obviously, he took possession of his daughter against her will, and when she could not stand the shame, she hanged herself. Menkaure was never able to overcome his guilt and grief over the loss of his daughter.

After her death, an oracle predicted that Menkaure would live another six years. Hearing this prediction, Menkaure made many lamps, which he lit as soon as night fell. He drank and entertained all day and night.

Menkaure decided that by turning the nights into days, he could extend his remaining years from six to twelve. He ended up reigning for about 22 years, but Herodotus states that Menkaure died prematurely around 2500 BC.

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What does the pyramid of Menkaure look like? If the Pyramid of Khufu was originally 481 feet high and the Pyramid of Khafre was 471 feet, then the Pyramid of Menkaure is only 213 feet high.

The valley temple stands close to the river, and the mortuary temple is accessed by a road just behind the main pyramid.

Outside, the pyramid was lined with pink granite (almost all of it was removed). It has two entrances that lead to two different chambers. One chamber is dug in underground rocks. The other chamber is higher up and has a decorated entrance.

In 1196, an attempt was made to dismantle the pyramid, as a result of which a gaping hole was left in the northern face of the pyramid, which was never sealed.

Near the pyramid of Menkaure are three small pyramids, which, most likely, were intended for his family. The first of these may have been built for Menkaure’s wife, Queen Khamerernebti II.

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Pyramid of Menkaure today. View of the damage on the northern face of the pyramid

When was the sarcophagus of Menkaure found? The sarcophagus of Menkaure was found by the British adventurer Howard Weiss in 1837. He discovered the burial chamber by blowing holes in the pyramid, which was quite an extreme method, but effective.

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The burial chamber, in which the sarcophagus was located, was found in the lower chamber in the rock. This basalt sarcophagus weighed three tons, and on the outside, complex decorations were visible on the stone, which the Egyptians call “palace-facade motifs.” The color of the stone was brown and blue where the chips were.

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There was no body in the sarcophagus; it also did not contain any inscriptions or hieroglyphs. The broken lid of the sarcophagus was found in the upper chamber along with a wooden coffin on which a cartouche (signature) of Menkaure was inscribed.

However, the remains found in the coffin did not belong to Menkaur. Radiocarbon tests dated the remains to the Christian period, that is, a time that was well after the reign of Menkaure. The design on the lid of the wooden coffin also did not match Menkaure’s time frame. Menkaure’s remains have never been found.

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Detailed drawing of the side of the sarcophagus from Weiss’ book “Operations Carried Out at the Pyramids of Giza in 1837”

What happened to the sarcophagus?

Howard Weiss claimed he wanted to save the sarcophagus from further destruction. Menkaur’s body disappeared and the sarcophagus was damaged by graffiti. The sarcophagus of Menkaur was placed on the English merchant ship Beatrice, which sailed from Alexandria in September 1838.

He arrived on the island of Malta and was to go to Liverpool, England. There it would be sent to the British Museum in London. However, before reaching Liverpool, the ship was lost at sea. October 13 “Beatrice” got into a storm, and the ship sank somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.

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Why was the sarcophagus not found?

The exact location where the Beatrice sank is unknown, making it difficult to find the wreck. Even the surviving crew members were unable to pinpoint the exact location.

Suggestions for where the wreck might be include: “somewhere off Gibraltar; between Malta and Spain; off the Spanish port of Cartagena; off the Tuscan coast of Italy; in the Bay of Biscay.”

In 2008, the Egyptian authorities planned to search for the sunken ship. Robert Ballard, the man known for discovering the wreck of the Titanic, was also called on to lead the search.

However, due to political problems in the country, the search was stopped. There is also cause for concern regarding ownership of the sarcophagus, should one be found.

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This is an Egyptian artifact that was on board a British ship that sank in Spanish waters. Those are the three countries that will want to lay claim to the wreckage, not counting the insurance company that compensated the museum after the artifact was lost.

Some believe that Howard Weiss received the sarcophagus illegally, which means that Britain should not have serious claims against him.

What else was on board the Beatrice?

It is unlikely that Menkaure’s sarcophagus was the only artifact aboard the Beatrice. Dr. Ivan Negeruela of Spain’s National Museum of Maritime Archeology suspects that the Beatrice was carrying 200 chests of antiquities found during excavations when she sank.

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How much can the sarcophagus of Mankaur cost?

When the sarcophagus was lost at sea, the British Museum received a payment of £148 from the insurance claim for the transport of the sarcophagus.

Today, this amount would be about 10,000 pounds (about $12,000). That’s how much it cost the insurance company when it was lost over 170 years ago. Today it would be an invaluable find for historians and archaeologists.

Luckily, the Beatrice wasn’t the only ship carrying artifacts. Some artifacts, including the sarcophagus lid, were sent on a separate ship, which arrived safely at their destination.

The sarcophagus may be lost at the bottom of the sea, but there is a good chance that it is well preserved. Mankaure’s sarcophagus was made from basalt, which is less vulnerable to seawater than other materials such as limestone. Perhaps one day it will be discovered and extracted from the water depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Then, probably, disputes will begin about who has the right to possess this historical exhibit. With luck, he will return to where he was supposed to be – to the pyramid of Menkaure in Giza.


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