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Perhaps there wasn't enough room left at the Giza Plateau. Maybe the cost of building was too high. For whatever reason, this last of the three Great Pyramids was considerably smaller. But following the trend begun at his predecessor Khafre's complex, Menkaure's mortuary temple was much more elaborate than the one at Khufu's pyramid.

Sixth ruler of the 4th dynasty (time line), Menkaure built himself a pyramid one-tenth the size of Khafre's. And unlike the other Great Pyramids, whose walls were made of limestone, Menkaure's pyramid was sheathed in granite on the bottom levels and in the burial chamber—a costlier, more difficult stone to work with.

Menkaure died unexpectedly, and work on his pyramid complex was abandoned. Menkaure's heir, Shepseskaf, likely later completed the complex using mud brick.

CLASSIC FACT: Excavators found a sarcophagus in Menkaure's burial chamber in the 1800s and sent it to England. The ship carrying it, however, sank in the Mediterranean, taking the sarcophagus with it.

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Pyramid photograph by Charles and Josette Lenars/Corbis. Pharaoh Menkaure photograph by Kenneth Garrett.

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