Agatha Christie and Archaeology: Mystery in Mesopotamia
8 November 2001- 24 March 2002

fig.: Agatha Christie in 1949. Photograph by Angus McBean.
©The Harvard Theatre Collection, used by permission

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This winter the British Museum presents a fascinating look at the secret
life of one of the world´s most popular writers, Agatha Christie - amateur
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.

Agatha 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.

Although 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 finds to
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 Assyria.

The exhibition 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 ( £18.99
paperback ).

The first 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 ).

A full 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.