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M.E.L. "Max" Mallowan was born in the Wandsworth district of London. He was educated at Rokeby School and Lancing College in West Sussex, and read classics at Oxford University. He began his career in archeology as an assistant to Sir Leonard Woolley on the dig at the ancient city of Ur in modern-day Iraq. It was there in 1930 that he met Agatha Christie, a friend of Woolley and his wife Katharine, and they married the same year. In 1936 she published Murder in Mesopotamia, one of the Hercule Poirot novels, based on her experiences at the archaeological site. Mallowan went on to become a field director for a series of expeditions jointly run by the British Museum and the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. In World War II, he served with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in North Africa. After the war, he was appointed Professor of Western Asiatic Archaeology at the University of London, a position he held until elected a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford in 1962. In 1947, he also became director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq and directed its work at Nimrud, the basis for his book Nimrud and its Remains (2 volumes, 1966). Mallowan also wrote Twenty-five Years of Mesopotamian Discovery (1956). He was knighted in 1968. Following the death of Ms. Christie in 1976, he married Barbara Hastings Parker, a fellow archaeologist.
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