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Agatha Christie and archaeology
All that remains today of the great Assyrian city of Nimrud is a string of mounds stretching along the east bank of the River Tigris in northern Iraq. Occupied from prehistoric times, it reached its real prominence in the reign of King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC), who made Nimrud the capital of the Assyrian Empire.
The first proper excavations at Nimrud were made by the great archaeologist and traveller Sir Henry Layard, who worked there between 1845 and 1851. Layard discovered the royal palaces ornamented with the famous stone reliefs displayed in The British Museum, among others. After him a number of other archaeologists worked there, including Hormuzd Rassam, W.K. Loftus and George Smith, but from 1879 onwards the site was effectively abandoned.
Max Mallowan must have recognized that the vast mounds still had huge potential when in 1949 he decided to apply for permission to re-open the excavations. In addition, both he and Agatha were enchanted by the site and its environs. On her first visit to Nimrud (when they were working with Campbell Thompson at Nineveh), Agatha had found it
'... a beautiful spot .... The Tigris was just a mile away, and on the great mound of the Acropolis, big stone Assyrian heads poked out of the soil. In one place there was the enormous wing of a great genie. It was a spectacular stretch of country - peaceful, romantic and inpregnated with the past.'
Main illustration: Max Mallowan, Barbara Campbell Thompson and Agatha Christie visiting Nimrud during the excavation at Nineveh in 1931-32 (photograph by Reginald Campbell Thompson).