An unauthorized project by Muslim authorities on the Temple Mount has revealed the existence of previously undocumented ancient floor designs at the site thought to be where the Bible’s First and Second Temples once stood, but Israeli archaeologists were denied the opportunity to view them.
Nearly two weeks ago Israel National News reported the Waqf, the Muslim authority that administers the Temple Mount, had brought a small tractor into the famous gold-domed Dome of the Rock and dug and removed earth there, claiming the project was to “replace carpet.” The required permission from and supervision by the Antiquities Authority, as well as approval from the Ministerial Committee on Archaeological Digs in Holy Sites, was never obtained. The Waqf denied doing any destructive work.
The Dome of the Rock is believed to stand over the site of the two Temples’ Holy of Holies.
Word of the new floor mosaics sparked speculation they could point to the location where the golden Ark of the Covenant was hidden 2,500 years ago.
“Something is there. I don’t know what. But something is hidden there,” Israeli archaeologist Zachi Dvira, who studies the site, told the London Daily Mail.
If it is there, it remains hidden, because the Waqf, funded by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, has laid new carpet everywhere.
Scholars expressed concern the glue used to secure the felt underlayer would damage the floors.
Israel’s housing minister Uri Ariel sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week saying, “There is no need to elaborate on how important this site is, where every modification, every excavation with heavy equipment can cause irreparable harm to the foundations of the Temple.”
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Leaked photos reportedly showed several geometric floor patterns never before documented by archaeologists, said Frankie Snyder, a researcher with the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
Some apparently date to when the Crusaders controlled the complex in the 12th century, she told the Daily Mail.
This is not the first dispute over Muslim projects on the Temple Mount.
A 1999 project included excavation of a 40-foot deep hole for construction of an underground prayer area. Ten thousand tons of earth were removed and dumped in Kidron Valley, east of the Temple Mount.
In 2007, WND documented an illegal project by the Waqf that used a bulldozer to excavate a trench 1,300 feet long and five feet deep that crossed buried walls Israeli archaeologists believed may have been remains of an area of the Second Jewish Temple known as the woman’s courtyard.
A spokesman for the Temple Mounts Movements accused the police of not doing their job of protecting the site during the recent project.
“The police don’t even allow Jews to move their lips in prayer while visiting the holy site, yet ignores tractors and other digging work on the Temple Mount and the place of the Sanctuary.”
Photographs at Ritmeyer Archaeological Designs show a major project undertaken in 1959 to strengthen the columns and walls of the Dome of the Rock with reinforced concrete. At the time, the bedrock, about 18 inches below the floor surface, was exposed and captured in the secretly-taken images.