Launched in 1932 the school has spent almost a century uncovering Iraq’s ancient treasures, including the spectacular Assyrian capital at Nimrud

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The British School of Archaeology in Iraq (BSAI) was Gertrude Bell’s idea and she was the reason for this gathering of the great and good. Famous as a traveller and writer, and deeply tangled in the politics of mandated Iraq and the wider Middle East, Bell’s primary passion throughout her life was archaeology. When she died in 1926 she left £6,000 with the trustees of the British Museum to be used to found the BSAI.

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Agatha Christie was a keen archaeologist, and married to BSAI’s first director Max Mallowan.
Agatha Christie was a keen archaeologist, and married to BSAI’s first director Max Mallowan. © ITV/REX/Shutterstock

The post-war years smiled on the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. In 1946 the school received its first government funding and in 1947 parliament voted it £4,000, allowing the BSAI to finally buy a house in Baghdad and set up shop properly. Sir Max Mallowan was appointed as the first director and immediately took up residence, along with a secretary, six students and Agatha Christie, Sir Max’s more famous wife. Christie is still noted in archaeology circles for having written the archaeological crime novel Murder in Mesopotamia. Mallowan and the British School spent the next decade excavating the spectacular ancient Assyrian capital at Nimrud, which was partly destroyed by ISIS militants in 2015.

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