updated 3/7/2011 1:12:40 PM ET 2011-03-07T18:12:40

And then there were some — lots, in fact.

The British Museum announced Monday it has acquired 6,000 ancient carved ivories that were excavated in Iraq with the help of mystery maven Agatha Christie.

The pieces were found at the site of the Assyrian capital of Nimrud between 1949 and 1963 during an expedition led by British archaeologist Max Mallowan. His wife, Christie, was part of the team and helped clean and preserve the objects when not working on thrillers including "They Came to Baghdad."

The pieces, which are almost 3,000 years old, once decorated furniture, horse trappings, chariots and containers and would have been adorned with gold and precious stones.

Originally imported as booty from cities along Mediterranean, they were discovered in a royal arsenal within a palace at Nimrud, just south of the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq.

Nimrud was the capital of the Assyrian empire for more than 150 years from 880 B.C., and has yielded rich archaeological remains, including huge statues of winged lions and a trove of gold jewelry discovered in the 1980s in the tombs of Assyrian queens.

British Museum director Neil MacGregor said the ivories were of "extraordinary importance" in telling the story of the Assyrian empire and the wider Middle East.

"Not only are they beautiful but they clearly carry in them a whole set of stories," he said.

The ivories were divided between Iraq and Britain, with the British portion held in storage by the British Institute For the Study of Iraq.

The museum has bought a third of the collection for 1.17 million pounds ($1.9 million), raised partly through a public appeal. The institute has donated another third and plans to return the final share to Iraq.

The museum said a selection of the ivories would go on display next week.

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