A lively, scholarly detective story in which Ashe (The Discovery of King Arthur, 1985, etc.) turns his inquisitive eye on the possible truth of a prehistoric Golden Age. The conviction that a paradise existed in ages past is such a tenacious one in many religious traditions (as well as in legend and folklore) that Ashe suggests there may indeed be a ""missing link"" from our current accounts of the origins of civilization and culture. Tentatively refuting the traditional assumption that the cultures of the Middle East and Mycenae filtered northward into ""barbaric"" Europe and North Asia, Ashe instead suggests that at least one major seedbed may have existed in the northern Altai mountain range near the intersection of Mongolia, the USSR, and China. What began as a collection of Stone Age hunters and gatherers may have developed (according to scant evidence dating back to as far as 24,000 B.C.) into a society of horse herders who maintained a rough state of intersexual balance; worshipped nature via shamans likely to be female; sifted the Siberian sands for gold for sacred objects; and formed a center of artistic and religious diffusion that would eventually drift southward to influence the Greek and Israelite cultures and perhaps even Native American religious customs. As Ashe points out, this ancient society may have inspired such concepts as, among others, the idea of a ""sacred mountain to the north,"" the ""magic"" properties of the number seven, the sacred symbolism of the bear, and the Altaic Goddess herself, who may have been the model for the Greeks' Artemis. ""This discussion is not a conclusion,"" Ashe says, ""it is a challenge."" Nevertheless, he makes an intriguing case for an Altaic paradise.