When Agatha Christie was busy working on some of her most popular novels, she was also doing a very important job preserving archaeological remnants in Nimrud, the same ancient Assyrian city in Iraq that saw many of these relics destroyed last year by ISIS.
Agatha Christie not only wrote the world’s best-selling mystery novel and is only outsold by Shakespeare and the Bible, but the Associated Press has reported that without her diligence and dedication, many Assyrian treasures in the city of Nimrud would never have been discovered.
Max Mallowan was Agatha Christie’s second husband and was also a renowned archaeologist. Despite the fact that Christie was so busy writing books, she still made the time to accompany her husband for months each year on his archaeological expeditions. In fact, in the 1950s, Mallowan’s career was virtually made because of his Nimrud digs. Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, said that it was commonplace for Agatha to disappear with her husband each winter.
“They disappeared into Iraq or Syria and returned in May or June. To her, it was just as important as writing. Her role, and she was quite old-fashioned about this, her role in the 1950s was to go on these digs with her husband and help him with the photography and dealings with the local labor force.”
Agatha Christie’s love of ancient history and archaeology was readily apparent in her books like Murder in Mesopotamia and Death on the Nile.
One of Max Mallowan’s discoveries was the famous winged bulls, or lamassu. These were protective deities dating back to the 13th century BCE, that once stood guard at the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II and there is an undated black and white photo that Christie took showing two of these winged bulls that she and her husband had discovered on their archaeological digs.
Some of Mallowan’s other discoveries included ivory figurines, with one of them known as the “Mona Lisa of Nimrud.” This particular figurine was reported to have been found inside of a muddy well. British archaeologist Georgina Herrmann described how Agatha Christie employed a different technique to cleaning this ivory figurine.
“She spent hours drying it and cleaning it off, with her face cream.”
— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) December 31, 2016
With certain ivory figurines having been found smashed, Christie relished the opportunity to put them back together again, according to Georgina Herrmann.
“Agatha was a passionate solver of jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles. She laid all these pieces out, there must have been hundreds of them, and put them together.”
However, things have changed greatly since Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan made their discoveries in Nimrud in Iraq, as their grandson Mathew Prichard explained.
“To say they would have thought it was a tragedy is an understatement. If my grandparents could somehow be alive again and see the newspapers for a week, they would not have recognized the places where they had been and lived and worked.”
One of the changes that has happened since Agatha Christie and her husband visited Nimrud was that Islamic State fighters ransacked this city in 2015, as PBS reported, because ISIS has said that pre-Islamic art is idolatrous. The head of the U.N.’s cultural agency has called this a “war crime” and Ihsan Fethi, a member of the Iraqi Architects Society, had strong words for the destruction that ISIS had caused.
“I cannot even describe the immensity of this loss. This is one of the most famous and probably one of the most important sites in the world.”
In November, the BBC showcased the remains of Nimrud in a series of photographs, which shows much of the ancient city in Iraq is now rubble. The site once covered 1.35 square miles and is now much smaller in size after so much destruction.
In Agatha Christie’s non-fiction book Come Tell Me How You Live, about her archaeological work in the 1940s, Christie wrote, “Inshallah, I shall go there again, and the things that I love shall not have perished from this earth.” While most of Agatha Christie’s archaeological work in Nimrud, Iraq, has been destroyed by ISIS, Iraqi forces have now taken Nimrud back.
[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]