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Book reviews: Ancient Ice Mummies | This Will Have Been | Hajj

  • by MICHAEL KERRIGAN
 

Michael Kerrigan looks over a selection of this week’s literature releases

Ancient Ice Mummies

by James H Dickson

(History Press, £18.99)

Rating: ****

Cometh the hour, cometh the iceman. Or woman: James H Dickson doesn’t discriminate – just as long as they’ve got gut-contents he can analyse. A botanist by training, he knows much more about the diet of Ötzi, the deep-frozen wayfarer famously found in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991, than that unfortunate can ever have known himself. But he ranges much more widely, and in fascinating detail, over all the other things we’ve been able to learn, not just from Ötzi, but from others like him – there are more than one might guess.

This Will Have Been

edited by Helen Molesworth

(MCA Chicago/Yale, £35)

Rating: ****

In the 1980s contemporary art it had its very own Golden Age. If greed was good, acquisitiveness extended across areas into which wealthy patrons had never previously ventured, a shift emblematised by the mainstreaming of hip-hop and of Basquiat’s graffiti art. Centuries-old skills were devalued with the installation in the ascendancy, the power of painting and sculpture apparently on the wane. Meanwhile, postmodernism made play with seriousness and meaning. Yet this was also the age of Aids and the activist-art it prompted; the decade in which women arrived in strength on the artistic scene. This colourful review of “Art, Love and Politics in the 1980s” reveals an unguessed-at ambition and integrity.

Hajj

edited by Venetia Porter

(British Museum, £25)

Rating: *****

Muhammad pronounced it the Fifth Pillar of Islam: according to tradition, though, the Hajj originated with a much earlier prophet; Abraham himself first made the pilgrimage to Mecca. He it was who built the city’s shrines, establishing rituals which have been honoured ever since. Around these rites, however, the world has gone on turning, the import of the pilgrimage changing constantly. The Hajj has itself been a catalyst for change, bringing together believers from across the world. This splendidly illustrated book sets out the sacred geography of the pilgrimage, explains its traditions and traces its development. Most strikingly, it brings home the Hajj’s extraordinary and enduring significance as a source of artistic inspiration and shows the pious creativity it has prompted over centuries.

 

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