Archaeology: It’s Not for Everyone

Nearly three thousand years old that palace was, it appeared. I wondered what sort of palaces they had in those days, and if it would be like the pictures I’d seen of Tutankahmen’s tomb furniture. But would you believe it, there was nothing to see but mud! Dirty mud walls about two feet high—and that’s all there was to it. Mr. Carey took me here and there telling me things—how this was the great court, and there were some chambers here and an upper storey and various other rooms that opened off the central court. And all I thought was, ‘But how does he know?’ though, of course, I was too polite to say so. I can tell you it was a disappointment! The whole excavation looked like nothing but mud to me—no marble or gold or anything handsome—my aunt’s house in Cricklewood would have made a much more imposing ruin! And those old Assyrians, or whatever they were, called themselves kings.

—Nurse Leatheran in Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia

I thought this book would be a fun adjunct to my Mesopotamian studies, but I found it rather annoying. The narrator, Nurse Leatheran, was far too judgemental and xenophobic for my liking. She kept going on about how catty the other women were (a classic case of the the pot calling the kettle black) and she kept referring to Poirot and the Tunisian priest as “foreigners” with repulsive “foreign” manners, as if she, an Englishwoman in Iraq, were not a foreigner herself. Perhaps Christie wanted to expose the attitude of (post)Victorian colonialism. The book is interesting because Christie herself was a nurse and married an archaeologist, whom she accompanied to digs in the Middle East. The mystery itself is good, though it could have been cleared up sooner if the police had found the murder weapon. I suppose there always has to be some error to make it a mystery.

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2 comments on “Archaeology: It’s Not for Everyone

  1. Or perhaps she's commenting on how people are? If you haven't met anyone like the Nurse then you must have either been very fortunate or lead a sheltered life.

  2. Sylvia says:

    No doubt it's an accurate portrayal. I remember reading in Muriel Spark's memoir about how she hated living in Africa because of the extreme racism of the colonists.

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