MV Blog


Murder in Mesopotamia forum

by Bernard
Publish date
23 August 2012
Comments (2)

Bernard works part-time at Melbourne Museum devising and delivering presentations for visitors. The other part of the time he has his nose in a book, most often a comic book.

Man dressed as Hercule Poirot Bernard/Poirot with a copy of Christie's Murder in Mesopotamia.
Image: Amanda Linardon
Source: Museum Victoria

Once upon a time, I went through a voracious Agatha Christie period, and immersed myself in a fictional universe of murders daring and domestic, and solutions logical and astonishing. I still return to the Queen of Crime from time to time, for a dose of ordered worlds turned upside down, with order (and an enlarged sense of that world) reinstated by Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot.

So when the chance arose to develop a forum around Agatha Christie's experiences on archaeological digs, which directly led to her happy marriage to Max Mallowan and her1936  novel Murder in Mesopotamia, I stuck on my second-best stick-on moustache and leapt in!

Drawing of man and woman Drawing of Max Mallowan and Agatha Christie in 1946.
Image: Bernard Caleo
Source: Bernard Caleo

Chairperson for the forum, Melbourne crime writer Angela Savage, explains that the idea for the forum came out of friendly banter about what to read in preparation for our Mesopotamia exhibition. "Someone suggested Murder in Mesopotamia, which I was intrigued to learn was Agatha Christie's most autobiographical novel. The more I learned about Agatha's links to archaeology, her marriage to Max Mallowan and the time they spent together on digs in the Middle East, the more intrigued I became."

Setting the scene of Agatha Christie's visits to the digs in Mesopotamia will be Henrietta McCall of the British Museum, joining us via an exclusive pre-recorded interview to show us on-site photographs of Agatha Christie, Max Mallowan, and Leonard and Katherine Woolley, the leaders of the archaeological expedition.

People at archaeological dig Leonard and Katherine Woolley excavating in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, 1928
Source: By permission of the Trustees of The British Museum

Another of our panellists is crime writer Kerry Greenwood, author of the Phryne Fisher series of crime novels set in 1920s Melbourne (recently adapted into an ABC TV series), who will speak about the 'golden rules' that determine Christie's particular style of crime writing. Kerry will also speak about the fascination that the ancient world holds for her as a fictional setting – both she and Christie have set murder mysteries in Ancient Egypt.

The CEO of Museum Victoria, Patrick Greene, also an experienced archaeologist, is our other panellist. Dr Greene's experiences on archaeological digs and his recent travels to Egypt will figure in the panel discussions.

"The relationships between life and art, between detective fiction and archaeology, and how the allure of ancient worlds finds expression in popular art forms suggests rich material for discussion," says Angela Savage. "To be able to assemble such a distinguished panel feels like quite a coup."

It's great to have an opportunity to fill out my knowledge of the fascinating life of Agatha Christie, and I have it on good authority that our friend M. Poirot may indeed make an appearance at the forum, exercising his famous 'little grey cells'.

Man dressed as Hercule Poirot Hercule Poirot. Or some manifestation thereof.
Image: Amanda Linardon
Source: Museum Victoria

The Murder in Mesopotamia forum is presented by Melbourne Museum and Sisters in Crime Australia on Sunday 9 September, 2.00-3.30pm.

Egypt: a fascinating journey

by J. Patrick Greene
Publish date
27 June 2011
Comments (32)

At Christmas I read the biography of Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. In January I followed in his footsteps to Egypt, visiting the pyramids on the Giza plateau, then Saqqara to see the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser, then Luxor and Karnak (ancient Thebes, centre of the worship of the god Amun) and finally, across the Nile to the Valley of the Kings.

  Karnak temple Ornately carved pillars at Karnak temple.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria

Excavation of Ptolemaic era baths outside the main entrance to Karnak temple. Excavation of Ptolemaic era baths outside the main entrance to Karnak temple.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria

To enter the tomb in which Tutankhamun was buried was an extraordinary experience. In 1922 there were over 5000 astonishing objects in the tomb, stacked one on top of the other, that took Carter and his team ten years to carefully remove, record, conserve and then pack for their journey to the Cairo Museum. As I stepped into the burial chamber I felt something of the excitement that Carter had felt as he peered through the sealed blocking wall for the first time. The beautiful sarcophagus is still there, carved with the protective deities with wings outstretched that guarded the young king as he began his journey to the afterlife. So too is Tutankhamun; his mummy has never left the tomb except for a short journey outside for a CT scan a few years ago.

I was lucky enough to have the tomb to myself for ten minutes or so, to absorb the atmosphere and marvel at the paintings on the walls of the burial chamber. Photographs are forbidden, quite rightly, not just to help preserve the pigments of the paintings but also the sense of awe. When some other visitors eventually entered they concluded that the sarcophagus and mummified body were replicas. I was able to reassure them that they were not!

My fascinating journey to Egypt included a visit to the Cairo Museum to see the objects that Howard Carter had so carefully sent down the Nile. Visitors clustered around one object in particular, the famous gold funerary mask that never leaves Egypt. Some of the cases had notes to say that the objects that they normally contained were part of an international exhibition. With pride I knew where they were heading—to Melbourne Museum to be displayed in the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition that opened in April.

  Patrick Greene in front of the Cairo Museum Patrick Greene outside the famous Cairo Museum, where treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun are housed.
Source: Museum Victoria

I couldn't take photographs in the tomb, or in the Cairo Museum for that matter, but elsewhere I was given access to sites and met with fellow archaeologists making exciting discoveries that I was able to photograph. A selection of my images has now been published by Museum Victoria in a book that is hot off the press. Its title? Egypt: a fascinating journey.


Egypt: a fascinating journey

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs

Watch Dr Greene's lecture: 'An Archaeologist Visits Ancient Egypt'




We have a signed copy of Patrick's book to give away to a blog reader. To enter, leave a comment on this post by noon on Thursday 30 June with your answer to this question:

What fascinates you about Egypt?  


UPDATE: Thank you to all the entrants! Patrick has chosen JessB as the winner, saying:

“I was spoilt for choice in deciding the winner of my book.  I had no idea who had written the blog entries as they were shown to me without names attached.  I made a shortlist, and finally chose my winner, which expresses so eloquently the captivating beauty of the artists and crafts people whose creations still speak to us over the distance of time.”

"A huge and interesting problem"

by Kate C
Publish date
25 November 2010
Comments (0)

What happens after archaeologists dig up thousands of pieces of historical material? Where do they go next? And who will care for them in years to come?

These questions were central to a recent symposium at Melbourne Museum. Jointly sponsored by Museum Victoria, La Trobe University and the Australian Research Council (ARC), the symposium was organised by Dr Charlotte Smith, a senior curator at Museum Victoria. The symposium, called Developing sustainable, strategic collection management approaches for Archaeological Assemblages, invited local and international guests to discuss the problem shared by institutions around the world – what to do with boxes and boxes of artefacts.

Archaeological assemblage in storage Rows and rows of archaeological material in storage at Museum Victoria.
Image: Veegan McMasters
Source: Museum Victoria

Charlotte’s curatorial duties include oversight of the Commonwealth Block assemblage, which is the world’s largest 19th century urban assemblage. It comprises 508,000 individual fragments that were excavated from the site bordered by Lonsdale, Exhibition, Little Lonsdale and Spring Streets in Melbourne. It was painstakingly documented and has phenomenal research and exhibition potential, but this is not always the case. Some assemblages excavated in the 1980s arrived at the museum with such scant records that we don't even know where they were dug up.

box of artefacts Some archaeolgocial material is poorly documented; we don’t even know where this particular box of artefacts came from.
Image: Veegan McMasters
Source: Museum Victoria

The idea of sustainability, explained Charlotte, refers to cultural and social sustainability. “It’s making sure we hand on to future generations collections that are manageable.” When it comes to the idea of significance, the perspective of archaeologists and museums are slightly different. “When a museum develops a collection, you can limit your collecting from the start. But in archaeology you can’t make those kinds of decisions because the whole of the record is important and you can’t predict how big it will be.”

Speakers at the archaeological assemblage symposium Speakers at the archaeological assemblage symposium. L-R: Tim Murray, Nick Merriman, Charlotte Smith, Maryanne McCubbin and Terry Childs.
Source: Museum Victoria

By training museum workers in archaeology and vice versa, both groups better understand the perspective of the other. Museum Victoria has a great working relationship with local archaeologists, but not every institution has access to such experts. Until recently, archaeologists rarely received training in collection management and Charlotte talked about the importance for people to have skills in both areas.

Charlotte is very pleased with the outcomes of the symposium about what she describes as “a huge and interesting problem.” The symposium participants were pragmatic in their approach and agreed that better planning at the dig stage of a project, including on-site significance assessment, would help keep these large, important historical assemblages manageable for future generations.


Unearthing Little Lon

Casselden Place on Collections Online

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.