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Agatha Christie

This year’s Valentine’s Day blog is about the archaeology behind Mrs. Agatha Christie, a famous crime novelist with a strong and loving connection to archaeology.

Agatha Christie was born September 15, 1890 in the UK. In 1928, a visit to the excavation site of Ur (modern Iraq) sparked her interest in archaeology. She writes, ‘The lure of the past came up to grab me. To see a dagger slowly appearing, with its gold glint, through the sand was romantic. The carefulness of lifting pots and objects from the soil filled me with a longing to be an archaeologist myself.’ – A. Christie, An Autobiography (London, 1981), p. 389

It was during this time that she met archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she married in 1930. Max Mallowan (1904-1978) was first an assistant to Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur and later a field director in Western Asia. He is known for conducting further excavations of the Nimrud ivories of the Assyrian kingdom 900-612 BC between 1949 and 1963

For the next twenty years, she lived near various excavation sites in the Middle East, helping her husband. At some of the sites, Agatha cleaned and repaired artifacts, photographed, and catalogued the objects. She is credited with coming up with a preservation and cleaning technique of using her face cream and an orange stick to clean 3,000 year old ivories excavated by Mallowan in Nimrud Iraq.

These archaeology experiences and travels in Western Asia and Cairo also inspired Agatha Christie to write some of her most famous novels including Murder in Mesopotamia whose characters relate to people she knew on the dig site in Ur. She writes, “Archaeology and crime detection are similar because you have to clear away the debris to reveal the shining truth.” (CNN)



Valentine’s day fact:
Agatha Christie is known for this witty quote, ” An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.”
In News Report 1954, her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan attributed this quote to her, but she later denied saying it. Perhaps it was meant as a joke between the couple since Agatha Christie was in fact 15 years his senior.

MOA’s Connection:
MOA has a collection of Mesopotamian artifacts from Ur.  Our collection consists of pottery vessels, clay artefacts, and metal tools and many of the artifacts still have Woolley’s original artifact numbers written on them.

Learn more:

  • “The Life of Max Mallowan: Archaeology and Agatha Christie.” – by Henrietta McCall
  • Online tour (British Museum): Learn about objects from each of the sites that Agatha worked on and her photographs.

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