Red social de Arqueologos e Historiadores
El Museo Británico anunció hoy haber adquirido una colección de marfiles decorativos descubiertos por el marido de la novelista Agatha Christie en Nimrud, en el actual Irak. Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan (1904-1978), esposo de la creadora del detective Hércules Poirot, estuvo al frente de la Escuela Británica de Arqueología en Irak entre 1947 y 1961 y dirigió las excavaciones de Nimrud, iniciadas por Austen Henry Layard.
Fuente: EFE, Londres, 7 de marzo de 2011
Precisamente de esa antigua capital de Asiria proceden las piezas, con 3.000 años de antigüedad, que ha comprado ahora el museo por 1.17 millones de libras (1.37 millones de euros) y que Mallowen descubrió junto a su esposa, quien escribió allí algunas de sus novelas mientras le acompañaba como parte del equipo de arqueólogos.
Mallowan describió aquellos trabajos en su obra "Veintinueve Años de Descubrimientos Mesopotámicos" y Agata Christie se refirió también a ellos en su libro autobiográfico y de viajes "Tell me how you live" (1946).
"Nimrud es uno de los más importantes yacimientos arqueológicos del Próximo Oriente y los marfiles allí encontrados figuran entre los productos más exquisitos jamás descubiertos en una excavación arqueológica", afirmó John Curtis, del departamento de Oriente Medio del Museo, al dar a conocer hoy la operación.
La colección, que ha estado almacenada desde 1963 y nunca se ha exhibido al público, está integrada por ceca de 1.000 piezas numeradas así como otros 5.000 fragmentos, sin numerar.
Los marfiles, hechos en su mayoría en ciudades sirias y fenicias y llevados a Asiria como parte de algún botín o como tributos, datan de entre los siglos nueve y séptimo antes de nuestra era.
En su mayoría constituían elementos decorativos de muebles, carruajes y arreos de caballos y muchos estaban originalmente recubiertos de oro y engastados de piedras preciosas.
Muchos de ellos representan animales y figuras humanas o motivos florales y geométricos. Uno de ellos por ejemplo muestra el animal mitológico conocido como grifo que descansa una pata sobre una flor de loto al estilo egipcio.
La adquisición ha sido posible gracias a generosos donativos de los Amigos del Museo Británico, del Art Fund y del National Heritage Fund y al propio British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI), sucesor de la Escuela Británica de Arqueología en Irak, que ha donado un tercio de la colección
Otro tercio de la misma se quedará en el BISI con la esperanza, según el Museo Británico, de que un día esas piezas puedan volver a Irak.
Photo: A piece of carved ivory from ancient Assyria recently acquired by the British Museum/Getty.
British Museum buys Assyrian treasures cleaned by Agatha Christie
By: Maev Kennedy guardian.co.uk, Monday 7 March 2011 16.43 GMT Article history
The crime writer used face cream to restore the ivories discovered in the city of Nimrud by her archaeologist husband.
Despite the best efforts of Agatha Christie and her pot of face cream, many of the ivory treasures just acquired by the British Museum from the Assyrian city of Nimrud are still scorched by the fire that brought one of the great palaces of the ancient world crashing down on top of them 2,600 years ago.
A fundraising appeal that brought in £750,000 in six months from 1,800 members of the museum friends, along with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund, raised almost £1.2m to buy the ivories, discovered in the 1940s by the archaeologist Max Mallowan, Christie's second husband.
The ivories have been in storage since 1963, first at the Institute of Archaeology and for the past 25 years at the British Museum, and never seen by the public.
"These are astonishing objects, not just very beautiful but with many stories to tell us about the culture in which they were made," said Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum. Some of the most beautiful pieces will be shown off in a small exhibition at the museum next week.
Agatha Christie knew the carvings intimately. After the crime writer's disastrous first marriage, her second was very happy: she strongly recommended marrying an archaeologist since he would regard a woman as more beautiful and interesting as she aged.
Christie spent long periods on site in the eight years Mallowan spent excavating the enormous site in northern Iraq. He built her a special writing hut, where she wrote parts of They Came to Baghdad and A Pocket Full of Rye, but she also helped with site work, including cleaning the beautiful ivories using a pot of expensive face cream. The museum conservators who have been working on them wouldn't recommend the technique, but it appears to have done no harm to the tiny sphinxes, lions, serpents and flowers, once inlaid with precious stones or covered with gold foil, which originally completely covered elaborate pieces of furniture.
The intricately carved ivories, some no larger than buttons, were regarded as one of the finds of the century, from one of the legendary cities of the ancient world.
The city was already ancient when Shalmaneser III built a 200-room palace surrounded by a five-mile wall in the eighth century BC, adding to the temples, palaces and giant ziggurat built by his father. It was sacked by the Medes and the Persians in 612 BC. Shalmaneser and his ancestors never lacked enemies. Their own boasting inscriptions recorded not just the cedar wood, gold and silver that decorated their palaces, but how they flayed or cut out the tongues of their captives, and left rivers flowing with their blood.
Nimrud was first excavated by the archaeologist Henry Layard in the 19th century, and the giant winged stone bulls and lions he brought back to the British Museum caused an international sensation. He had dragged them across the desert by ox cart and shipped them down river on rafts supported by thousands of inflated goat skins, and they are still some of the most spectacular objects in the entire vast collection. Since then the museum has acquired pottery, inscriptions and metal work from the site and the greatest Nimrud collection in the world is now in Bloomsbury.
Mallowan had yearned to work at the site, but it took him until 1949 to get the necessary permits to excavate with the British School of Archaeology in Iraq – now the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, which has sold a third of its collection to the museum, and donated another third.
When he hit the stores known as "the ivory room", thousands of carvings poured out of the ground and were then divided between the archaeologists and the museum in Baghdad. More ivories were found at Nimrud - brought there either as booty or luxury imports - than at any other Assyrian site.
The British Museum curator Nigel Tallis believes the fragile ivories may have survived because many of them, already centuries old, had fallen out of fashion and been put into store long before the sack of the palace. Most had been stripped of their jewelled inlays and gold foil covering.
Many of the pieces which remained in Iraq were damaged in the invasion. John Curtis, keeper of the Middle East collections at the museum, recalled seeing broken ivories trampled underfoot in the ransacked museum in Baghdad, and others placed in a bank vault were damaged by flooding after a shell hit the building.
The British Institute - which needed the money to continue its work of organising lectures and seminars and sponsoring Iraqi scholars to visit Britain after it lost all its funding from the British Academy - has kept back some of the ivories, and hopes eventually to return them to Iraq.
Scholars are itching to get their hands on the ivories after the exhibition. Some of the pieces have notes on the back in ancient Aramaic, which appear to be the Ikea flatpack instructions of almost 3,000 years ago on how to assemble the furniture.
*** Mallowan, Sir Max Edgar Lucien, 1904–78, British archaeologist, educated at Oxford. He participated in the British Museum–Univ. of Pennsylvania excavations at Ur (1925–30) and Nineveh (1931–32), both in present-day Iraq. From 1947 to 1961 he served as director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, supervising the Nimrud excavations of 1949–58 and those at numerous other sites. He taught at the Univ. of London from 1947 until 1962 and was knighted in 1968. He was married to the popular mystery novelist Agatha Christie. His writings include an autobiography, Mallowan's Memoirs (1977), and Twenty-five Years of Mesopotamian Discovery (1956).