Agatha Christie is the world’s best-selling crime novelist; but did you know that she also worked in the field of archaeology alongside her second husband, the distinguished archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan? From the 21st Century Collection, this month’s treasure is Agatha Christie and Archaeology, edited by Charlotte Trümpler, which celebrates Christie’s relationship with archaeology, exploring what life was like working and travelling around archaeological digs in the Middle East in the 1930s to the 1950s, and detailing the extraordinary relationship between Christie’s books and the field of archaeology.
First published as part of a major exhibition at the British Museum in 2001-02 and translated from German, this book details Christie’s contribution to the excavations led by her husband at various sites in Syria and Iraq, including the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud which has since been destroyed. With reflections from those who worked as part of the excavation teams, the book describes everyday life for Christie and her husband at the digs (including anecdotes of Christie piecing together pottery shards and cleaning ivory fragments using hand lotion and face cream).
Christie photographed many of the finds, some of which are now held in the British Museum. These are explored in the book, as well as details and stills from two films she made of the excavation sites that have never been shown publically. The book also provides photographs of Agatha and Max, in addition to examples of photographs taken by Christie of late-1930s Syria and of Iraq between 1948 and 1958. Demonstrating Christie’s unique perspective on archaeological digs in these areas, Agatha Christie and Archaeology also explores the differences between her attitude to the Orient, and those of previous European travellers in the Middle East, including Gertrude Bell whose extensive archive is held in Special Collections.
Many of Christie’s best-loved and most well-known novels featuring Hercule Poirot, such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Murder in Mesopotamia (1935), Death on the Nile (1937) and Appointment with Death (1937), take place in the Middle East and feature settings of archaeological sites; Agatha Christie and Archaeology uncovers some of the little-known connections between the fictional dramas and characters of the novels and their basis on real-life events and people, such as Christie’s own adventurous travels to excavation sites.
Why not visit Special Collections to take a look at some of the examples of Christie’s work held here? There are children’s versions of Death on the Nile and Crooked House in the Booktrust Collection, and the little-known Star Over Bethlehem and Other Stories – a collection of religious stories and poems generally thought to be aimed at children that Christie published under her married name – is held in the Brian Alderson Collection.