Investigating Agatha Christie

Are you looking for a little something archaeological to do with the family during the Holidays? If yes, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History is presenting an interesting exhibition about Agatha Christie and archaeology.  Indeed, the Queen of crime is intimately linked to archaeology: not only did she used several important historical and archaeological sites in a number of novels, she also was married to archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, whom she accompanied on excavations in Mesopotamia.

Excerpts about the exhibition from the Museum’s website:

Pointe-à-Callière is mounting Investigating Agatha Christie, an original exhibition focusing on an exceptional woman whose unusual life and compelling novels left their mark on international literature. The exhibition, to run from December 8, 2015 to April 17, 2016, will look at Agatha Christie through her work, her imagination and her world, including archaeology. It is one of the major international events planned to mark the 125th anniversary of the famous novelist’s birth, on September 15, 1890.

Christie drew heavily on archaeology and history as inspiration for many of her famous novels, including Murder in Mesopotamia, They Came to Baghdad, Appointment with Death and Death Comes as the End. She also described daily life on dig sites in a fascinating little book entitled Come, Tell Me How You Live. She wrote that an archaeologist and a detective have much in common: both must come to understand an event (recent or in the distant past) using their observation skills and clues that are brought to light, piecing them together and relying on a bit of luck, too!

No wonder many archaeologists are fans of Christie’s novels!  Indeed, I count myself amongst them: I am quite fond of Hercule Poirot (slowly but surely, I have been re-reading all the Poirot stories in order). I’m very much tempted to go see this exhibition. Perhaps I might have time during the holiday…

Musing about film canisters

When I did laundry earlier this week, the ribbon from my pyjama bottom came out of the waistband. As I threaded it back on, using a safety pin, I mused about the little container I use to store all my safety pins: a photo film canister.

obsoleteDigital cameras having replaced the film ones, the little canister is now an obsolete object, a rare thing. Strangely enough, film canisters were rather useful archaeological digs back in the day. Team members would “collect” them during the year and bring them on the dig each season. We had tons! What were the film canisters used for, you ask? Well, they came in really handy to store the small tiny objects like beads and amulets, which were carefully placed inside with a label and cotton batting so they wouldn’t rattle around. Nowadays, small objects get placed in mini Ziploc bags, but they aren’t quite as protected as in the film canisters. Small objects now need to be placed in baskets separately from the big artefacts because the latter can crush the small items. In this day and age, there are probably very young archaeologists who have never used a film canister on a dig…. Heck, maybe some of them have never used film cameras!

Back to the Future Day

October 21, 2015 was the day on which Marty McFly travelled to the future in Doc Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean in Back to the Future II.  I love those movies and yes, I have found a way to connect them to archaeology….


As archaeologists, we study the past through archaeological excavations… but millennia separate us from the historical periods in which we are interested and to which we devote our lives.  What we find on digs is only a small percentage of what was there thousands of years ago.  And even if we do find lots of architectural vestiges, written texts or artefacts, sometimes it’s rather difficult to figure out what they mean and how they were used. That’s when we wish we had a plutonium-powered flying DeLorean so we could travel back in time… and figure it all out.

How cool would it be to figure out how the pyramids were actually built?  To stand with the masses as the barque of Amun is borne in procession during the Opet Festival? To ask Akhenaten what the heck was he thinking when he decided to be depicted in that odd fashion? To glimpse at Cleopatra and discover if she really was all that and a bag of chips? To witness the Romans get their butts kicked by a powerful Nubian queen?

Would you want to know? Or would you rather the past remained mysterious? Or would you rather travel to the future… and give the archaeologists there a few hints about what is going on back in good old 2015?!

Happy Back to the Future Day!


The destruction of Nimrud

There’s a reason I don’t like reading the news: it’s depressing, truly depressing. How can I not be devastated when I read that the ancient city of Nimrud has been bulldozed?  Amidst the numerous online articles focusing on the perpetrators and the situation the Middle East, BBC News offers a great write-up of the site’s historical and archaeological importance. (It’s refreshing but once you understand how amazing Nimrud is/was, the destruction is heartbreaking.)  You can read Unrivalled riches of Nimrud, capital of world’s first empire and discover more.

I dedicate this post to all my friends who are specialists of the ancient Near East. I feel your pain.

Who Mourns for Adonais?

A couple of days ago, I watched ‘Who Mourns for Adonais,’ a Star Trek episode that features the Greek god Apollo and I have been meaning to write a post about it ever since. In light of today’s sad news—the passing of Leonard Nimoy, who played the unflappable Mr. Spock—I thought this might be the time to post my entry.

This is an episode of which I have always been rather fond because it features a female officer named Carolyn, who is an archaeologist and a specialist of ancient civilisations, relics and myths. (Does this sound like anyone you know?!) The gist of the episode is that the Enterprise is seized by Apollo—an alien being who was once worshipped by the ancient Greeks as a god of Olympus (along with others of his race, the remaining deities of the Greek pantheon). After the landing party arrives, Apollo insists that the rest of crew beam down and worship him as humans had done millennia before. Mayhem ensues, as you can imagine. The idea I have always liked about that episode is that gods cannot exist without love, admiration and worship; yet people cannot be forced to worship a deity in which they do not believe. People evolve, cultures change… and, as Apollo eventually admits, gods eventually die.

The episode appeals to me because it deals with antiquity, ancient myths and deities, and the evolution of cultures. That’s what anthropology and archaeology are all about: the advancement of humans and their various cultures–how things have changed (or haven’t) over millennia. How we learn, adapt and grow. We’re studying the past… and people from the future will undoubtedly study us in a similar manner. Fascinating.

In memory of Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015).

Government archaeologists

This morning, I received an e-mail from a young woman interested in archaeology who wished to find out more about the field. She wrote to the museum hoping to get in touch with a local archaeologist, someone she could shadow and observe in action. Evidently, the message was forwarded to me. While I could potentially help, I thought it would be rather boring for someone to observe me create PowerPoint presentations and write up project budgets (that’s what I’m doing these days). It’s really not as exciting as sorting arrowheads and doing data entry… something that might be possible if you volunteer at the Office of State Archaeology. This is what I suggested to this young woman.

Although you might think there aren’t that many archaeologists in your area, there are probably several working for state, provincial or federal governments in a town near you. We’re not all employed by universities and museums! (Heck, the US Department of Defence employs archaeologists! Read this for details.) Every American state should have an OSA that focuses on the cultural heritage within its boundaries. The same goes for provincial archaeology offices (look under Ministry of Culture) in Canadian provinces and for Parks Canada, who manages and protects federal archaeological resources in the Great White North.

These are good places to start looking for archaeologists and the volunteer work there will be different from that in a museum (and probably more archaeological and hands-on). You might have to have some training before you can even begin to volunteer… but isn’t that the point? Learning more about archaeology?

A day on a dig in Jordan

After having reblogged two posts, I thought I should treat you to a little something original: a new adventure in the Day in the Life of an Archaeologist chronicle! You can now read about a day in my life… on my very first dig! Enjoy a day at Tell Madaba, Jordan; it’s available from the menu.