New Montreal exhibit shows Agatha Christie's secret life in archaeology

A new exhibition at the Pointe-à-Callières Archaeology Museum investigates the lesser known passion for travel and history of the prolific crime writer.

Investigating Agatha Christie turns up suprising stints as an archaeology assistant

Agatha Christie is the best-selling author in the world.

Investigating Agatha Christie turns up some fascinating facts.

The new exhibition at Pointe-à-Callières Museum in Montreal reveals a side of the famous crime writer that is as unusual as unexpected.

The exhibit shows a woman who has lived a full life, replete with passions other than writing.

Archaeologist as well

After her second marriage to British archaeologist Max Mallowan, Agatha Christie travelled with him on digs at historic sites in Mesopotamia (current day Iraq and Syria).

She writes about cleaning some of the tiny ivory sculptures found at Nimrud dating to 800-600 BC.

"My own favourite tools, just as any professional would: an orange stick, possibly a very fine knitting needle — one season a dentist's tool, which he lent, or rather gave me — and a jar of cosmetic face-cream, which I found more useful than anything else for gently coaxing the dirt out of the crevices without harming the friable ivory," she wrote.

The exhibition puts the writers' literary, archaeological and personal life together in one place.

Tidbits for fans

Christie's grandson, Mathew Pritchard, loaned objects for the exhibition.

Those items include her grand piano, 1937 Remington typewriter, and her dictaphone.

There are also evocative items like the chair in which she sat to have her portrait painted, letters, manuscripts and first editions of her books.

Her husband's nephew loaned a camera used by Christie, along with various slides, images and photos taken by her on archaeological dig sites during her travels in Mesopotamia.

Visitors can also see her notebooks for the first time ever. They can read her checklist for what makes a great detective story.

For Christie fans, the connection to archaeology is a delightful discovery and explains the settings of many of her famous novels, including Murder on the Orient Express.

But Pritchard said Christie never sought the kind of fame she's now enjoying.

"We are obsessed with celebrity these days. My grandmother wasn't. She could go out in the evening and have dinner in London much easier those days and I think for the family it was for the best," he said.

"She was perfectly normal grandmother. She was supremely unselfish, the best listener I ever encountered and she made a huge contribution to family life as well as the iconic contribution she made to great literature."


Jeanette Kelly works as the arts reporter at CBC Montreal. She's also the host of Cinq à Six, Quebec's Saturday afternoon culture show on CBC Radio One.


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