- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

LONDON A mystery Dame Agatha Christie spent many years trying unsuccessfully to solve will be the subject of an exhibition at the British Museum marking the 25th anniversary of her death.

For a decade, the crime writer and her second husband, Sir Max Mallowan, the distinguished archaeologist, searched for the lost city of Urkesh, once the center of a Syrian kingdom. It flourished in 2300 B.C., populated by refined and literate people called the Hurrians, but disappeared almost without a trace centuries ago.

When the couple began to look for its remains in the 1930s, all they had to go on was footnotes and folklore. A single reference to Urkesh appears in the Old Testament, and another was inscribed in a 4,000-year-old clay tablet that once belonged to Egyptian Pharaoh Amenmhet IV.

Mrs. Christie and Mr. Mallowan scoured the Middle East for the city, conducting numerous digs, discovering many artifacts and dispatching them to the British Museum. But they never unearthed the remains of Urkesh.

It was only in 1996 that Urkesh was located, in northeast Syria near the modern city of Tel Mozan, after a farmer stumbled across relics from the site and tried to sell them on the black market.

Mrs. Christie and her husband actually had visited the spot and dug there for two days before giving up. Now their extensive journeys in Syria and Iraq will be detailed in the British Museum exhibition, one of a series of events across Britain to mark the author's death, at 86, in 1976.

She researched many of her most famous books while hunting for the lost city, including "Death on the Nile" and "Murder in Mesopotamia," in which her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot solves a murder on an archaeological expedition. "Murder in Mesopotamia" was recently filmed for television, starring David Suchet as the detective, and will be shown to mark the anniversary.

Mrs. Christie also wrote a humorous book called "Come Tell Me How You Live," which detailed life on an archaeological dig, and "Death Comes in the End," which was set in Mesopotamia in 3000 B.C.

Mrs. Christie, whose work was first published in 1920, is the most popular novelist in history. More than 2 billion of her books in more than 45 languages have been sold.

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