The excavations in Hawarte began in the 1970s when the ruins of a 5th-century church were explored by a Frenchman, Pierre Canivet. Twenty years later the floor in the middle of the nave collapsed, revealing a mysterious cave which had walls covered with Mithraic paintings. It turned out to be the main room of a mithraeum. Unfortunately, the first to reach it were robbers. While trying to smuggle a fragment of plaster with traces of painting out of the country, they were detained by Syrian customs officers which led to the discovery of the underground temple of the god Mithra.