Dawn Behind the Dawn

It has long been the accepted theory that the “dawn of civilization” came when older, more advanced Indo-Aryan cultures from the Near East gradually diffused through the northern Mediterranean and northward and “civilized” the barbarian cultures of Europe and Northern Asia. However, using some of the most recent work in anthropology, archaeology, religious history, and the study of ancient myths and legends, Geoffrey Ashe suggests that an ancient, well-developed culture, located in the region of the Altai mountains—in what is now modern Siberia—may have been the seedbed from which many of the sophisticated beliefs and practices of other later cultures grew.

Certain distinguishing aspects of this Altaian culture—goddess worship, bear worship, female shamanism, reverence for the number seven, and the concept of a mountain or pillar that connects heaven and earth—are found only slightly modified in the cultures of such disparate groups as Mongolians, Greeks, Israelites, and Native Americans. Unlike nearly all later Indo-Aryan cultures, which were male-centered and aggressive, this Altaian culture practiced sexual equality. It was more spiritual and less warlike than the cultures to the south that ultimately assimilated it.

The early European and Middle Eastern cultures shared a common theme: the search for an earthly paradise and a hearkening back to an earlier “golden age” of peace and knowledge and freedom from hardship. It is Ashe’s thesis that this golden memory may have a real basis in the widely shared cultural memory of this Altaian culture of the remote paleolithic past.

DAWN BEHIND THE DAWN is not light reading. Geoffrey Ashe delves deeply into the esoteric knowledge and theories of half a dozen specialized fields of study. The general reader will be hard-pressed to evaluate the evidence Ashe presents or to follow all the steps in his chain of reasoning.