The photo archives of a British archeologist who carried out the only archeological excavation ever undertaken at the Temple Mount's Aksa Mosque show a Byzantine mosaic floor underneath the mosque that was likely the remains of a church or a monastery, an Israeli archeologist said on Sunday.
Excavations under the Aksa Mosque in the 1930s, photographs of which were recently uncovered, revealed a Byzantine mosaic floor.
The excavation was carried out in the 1930s by R.W. Hamilton, director of the British Mandate Antiquities Department, in coordination with the Wakf Islamic Trust that administers the compound, following earthquakes that badly damaged the mosque in 1927 and 1937.
In conjunction with the Wakf's construction and repair work carried out between 1938 and 1942, Hamilton excavated under the mosque's piers, and documented all his work related to the mosque in The Structural History of the Aqsa Mosque.
Hamilton also uncovered the Byzantine mosaic floor and beneath it a mikva (ritual bath) from the Second Temple period, which he pointedly did not include in the publication about the mosque, but instead photographed and labeled in a file about the mosque, archeologist Zachi Zweig said on Sunday.
Zweig uncovered the photographs in the British archeological archives that are kept at the Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem.
The Byzantine mosaic floor, which was uncovered under the Umayyad level of the mosque, is "without a doubt" the remains of a public building - likely a church - which predated the mosque, Zweig said in an address at a Bar-Ilan University archeological conference.
A similar mosaic can be found at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, he said.
"The existence of a public building from the Byzantine period on the Temple Mount is very surprising in light of the fact that we do not have records of such constructions in historical texts," Zweig said.
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