Christie and Archaeology: Mystery in Mesopotamia
8 November 2001- 24 March 2002
Christie in 1949. Photograph by Angus McBean.
©The Harvard Theatre Collection, used by permission
the British Museum presents a fascinating look at the secret
life of one of the world´s most popular writers, Agatha Christie
archaeologist. The show examines how she became interested in archaeology,
the areas of excavation where she worked, and how this experience affected
her writing. The exhibition was the original idea of Dr Charlotte Trümpler,
curator of classical archaeology at the Ruhrland Museum in Essen, Germany.
Christie originally became interested in archaeology on a spur of the
moment visit to the site of Ur in 1928. It was at Ur that she met her
future husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan, and became involved
in excavation of the sites that were to make his name: Ur (where he
was trained by the great Leonard Woolley), Nineveh, sites in north eastern
Syria including the massive mound of Tell Brak, and the site with which
he is most closely associated, Nimrud, where a fabulous collection of
ivories was discovered.
Agatha was greatly devoted to her husband and did everything she could
to nurture his career, accompanying him on digs and fulfilling the role
of junior assistant: cleaning and repairing objects, particularly ivories,
matching pottery fragments, and cataloguing finds. She became very expert,
and was much respected by Max*s colleagues for her painstaking and skilled
work. She was also much loved for her kindness and wonderful cuisine:
only on Mallowan digs were there chocolate éclairs and vanilla
soufflés. In between her professional and domestic tasks, she
found time to write, and some of her best known books are based on her
life in the Middle East:
Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Appointment with Death
and most particularly, Murder in Mesopotamia. She also left a unique
record of the excavations themselves through the photographs she took
and the very early home movies she made which capture the mood and excitement
of the digs. She also left a personal account of those happy days in
her book, Come, Tell Me How You Live.
only half a century ago, the lives of archaeologists in the 1930s, and
post-War in the 1950s, seem to belong to a different age. Travelling
overland to the sites by impossibly romantic trains such as the Orient
Express or the Taurus Express to remote and exotic stations such as
Aleppo, Baghdad or indeed Ur Junction, their journeys are at one and
the same time luxurious and primitive. An original carriage from an
Orient Express train
of the period shows how comfortable it was, provided no murderer was
aboard! Posters, luggage labels and menu cards fill in the details.
The exhibition will feature a mixture of artefacts from serious archaeological
interesting ephemera. Visitors will be able to see anything from the
Royal Standard of Ur to the murder weapon used in Murder in Mesopotamia,
from the original costumes used in the film, Death on the Nile, to an
archetypal Tell Halaf pot, crucial to the chronology of prehistoric
catalogue, Agatha Christie and Archaeology: Mystery in Mesopotamia,
is edited by Charlotte Trümpler and surveys the relationship between
the life and works of Agatha Christie. The book is sumptuously
illustrated with 400 photographs, including a selection from Agatha
Christie´s own personal photographic record of the excavations.
A dozen essays chronicle her life as an intellectual, author and explorer
ever full length biography of Sir Max Mallowan will also be published
to coincide with the exhibition. The Life of Max Mallowan, by Henrietta
McCall, is based on extensive interviews with relatives and colleagues
and research from private archives (£18.99 hardback ).
programme of education events accompanies the exhibition including gallery
talks and lectures. The Royal Game of Ur will be played in the Great
Court and a free film season of Agatha Christie adaptations will feature
Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun and Death on the Nile.