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Friday 18 August 2017 9:00 am

Chaco Canyon: Saving its Past from the Present for our Future
A Presentation by the Solstice Project
Santa Fe Indian School Convocation

Anna Sofaer and Rob Weiner presented the Solstice Project's recent research and efforts to preserve the cultural sites of the Chaco people. We brought up the latest understanding of Chaco Canyon as a powerful center of scientific and cultural achievements, showing its precise solar and lunar astronomy, the great expanse of its monumental architecture and engineered roads throughout a vast area of the Four Corners region (twice the size of Ireland), and the people’s transport of most of their food and 220,000 timbers into the canyon from 50 to 70 miles away. We showed intricately crafted objects located in the large Chaco buildings, that include cacao and scarlet macaws brought from Mesoamerica. To convey the extraordinary architectural achievements of the Chaco people we showed new 3D models of the monumental buildings in the central canyon and how these were emulated throughout the vast expanse of the Four Corners, up to 150 miles from Chaco Canyon. We emphasized how over 500 years the whole region was a web of sites and roads connecting Great Houses to special features of the landscape. Our recent understanding of the key role of landscape features includes the lunar alignment of Chaco Canyon itself. Finally, we demonstrated how new technologies of LiDAR and drone imaging can record and protect Chaco’s most vulnerable features, especially the remote and fragile ancient roads, and help to protect them from threats of erosion and energy development. We suggested means of advocating for Chaco’s protection. We enjoyed an interactive engagement with audience members, especially in the presentation of the computer modeling of the Sun Dagger site by Daniel Pedro and the 3D models of the buildings by Joe Dean.

February 13 and 20, 2017 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm

two-session class
“Archaeology, Astronomy, and Cosmography of the Chaco Culture”
through the RENESAN Institute for Lifelong Learning in Santa Fe

February 17, 2017, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Anna and Rob will be giving a public talk, introduced by Paul Pino, Lieutenant Governor of Laguna Pueblo,
at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque, NM

October 1, 2016 2:00 pm through 4:00 pm

Lecture with Anna Sofaer and Robert Weiner
The Sun, the Moon and Chaco Canyon: Recent Findings by the Solstice Project
Introduction by Brian Vallo (Acoma)
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, NM

(see also the interactive Sun Dagger Explorer computer model at this event)

For the Oct 2, 2016 MIAC talk ” The Sun, the Moon and Chaco Canyon”, Anna Sofaer will present --- with our new Solstice Project research associate Rob Weiner --- slides and video showing a preview of our new film “Written on the Landscape: Mysteries Beyond Chaco Canyon.” We will explore images of the Chaco culture’s vast region --- twice the size of Ireland --- and new concepts regarding the power at its center of monumental architecture: especially focusing on the magnificent Pueblo Bonito. What gave this place its remarkable influence across a major portion of the American Southwest, where 150 to 200 Great Houses emulated the architectural principles of the central canyon?

We will review as one source of power, the Chaco people’s complex solar and lunar astronomy --- expressed in light and shadow markings on spiral petroglyphs --- and in the alignments of major stone walls of the Great Houses. We will show new evidence of the Chaco’s region’s dynamic involvement with ‘exotica’ --- ritual objects of the tropical cultures of the South such as cacao, scarlet macaws, and copper bells --- and consider the source of its astronomical ideology. Are theories of the power of its leaders at the center represented by the Gambler in Pueblo and Navajo histories? Our most recent astronomical findings ---- and ancient “road” studies --- suggest that the power of the land formations of Chaco Canyon itself --- and the greater region --- may have inspired the Chaco people’s remarkable extent of solar and lunar alignments and cosmographic expression.

Friday, October 14–Sunday, October 16, 2016

Archaeoastronomy of Chaco Canyon School for Advanced Research (SAR) Field Trip
$990 per person, double-occupancy (single supplement $125) (includes $20 donation to SAR)

Since her discovery of Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon in 1977, Anna Sofaer has been the leading figure in the study of the archaeoastronomy of the Ancestral Puebloan world. She has published books and articles on Chaco astronomy and its connection to the Great Houses and kivas, and she has made several films about the topic, including The Sun Dagger (1982), and The Mystery of Chaco Canyon (1999). Sofaer is director of the Solstice Project, a nonprofit dedicated to research on the Chaco Phenomenon. After an introductory lecture and showing of her films in Santa Fe, Sofaer will lead the group on a special tour of the major ruins of Chaco Canyon. We will also be accompanied by another Southwestern archaeologist, whose perspectives will compliment Sofaer’s. We will enjoy an exclusive lunch and dinner at Chaco Canyon on October 15, catered by chef Pat Gharrity and Santa Fe’s Dr. Field Goods Food Truck. As we dine under the stars we will enjoy a full moon rising over Chaco Canyon. On Sunday, October 16, we will visit Aztec ruins before returning to Santa Fe.

Activity Level: Easy (can get in & out of van and walk unassisted for short distances) Includes: Bus transportation from Santa Fe, pre-trip lecture and film, hotel 2 nights, honoraria for 2 study leaders, meals, Dr. Field Goods catered lunch and special full moon dinner, water SAR field trips are for members only. To become a member, click here.

August 5 – 7, 2016, at the Pecos Conference pm
Rob Weiner presented, on behalf of the Solstice Project, His Cordell/Powers Prize winning paper and, Anna Sofaer’s, William Stone’s, and Weiner’s poster

“Gambling at the Center Place: Archeological, Oral Traditional, and Ethnographic Evidence for the Importance of Gambling in the Chaco World” For a video presentation of the paper, watch here! “An Investigation Into Possible Lunar Alignments of Prehistoric Shrine-Sites at Chaco Canyon” For an audio interview on the topic, listen here!

Sunday-Thursday 5-9 June 2016 pm
The Solstice Project’s exciting new findings were presented by the National Geodetic Survey of NOAA and the Solstice Project, at The Science of Time conference, Harvard University, June 5 to 9, 2016. View the completed poster, the poster abstract, and the conference website: Ancient Timekeepers of Chaco: An Investigation into Possible Lunar Alignments of Prehistoric Shrines by William Stone, Anna Sofaer and Robert Weiner

In and near Chaco Canyon, New Mexico – the center of an elaborate ceremonial architecture of the ancient Ancestral Puebloan culture – numerous small masonry structures built by the inhabitants may have been intentionally interrelated on alignments to the major standstill moon. The structures investigated here include low-walled / C-shaped, circular, and cairn configurations located on prominent elevated positions near the tops of three mesas that form the south side of Chaco Canyon and mesas located beyond the canyon, with inter-site alignments spanning 5 to 15 km. Ritual deposits of turquoise and other offerings at these small sites suggest their use as shrines, and we refer to them as “Special Use High Sites.” Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis of the spatial distribution of these sites – with precise geodetic coordinates determined through survey-grade GPS occupations processed with the National Geodetic Survey’s Online Positioning User Service (OPUS) – shows clustering of their interrelationships along azimuths to the rising and setting of the major lunar standstill. Previous extensive investigation by the Solstice Project documented the Chacoans’ commemoration of the lunar standstill cycle at the Sun Dagger petroglyph site on Fajada Butte and in the wall alignments and inter-building relationships of numerous Chaco Great Houses. Other research documented the relationship of the Chacoan Great House of Chimney Rock, Colorado, to the major lunar standstill. Our findings of the Special Use High Site inter-site alignments to the major standstill moon provide significant evidence for a hitherto undocumented small scale of lunar astronomical expression of the Chaco culture, in parallel with its large scale architectural alignments.

For more information:

Thursday 14 April 2016, 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Anna Sofaer presents The Mystery of Chaco Canyon
Brown University, Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Salomon Center, Room 001

Anna Sofaer “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon,” a one hour film narrated by Robert Redford and broadcast by PBS, will be presented by Producer/Director Anna Sofaer (Solstice Project). It reveals the complex astronomical works of the ancient Chaco culture of New Mexico. Sofaer will be present for Q and A and will update the research of her non-profit Solstice Project on the remarkable expanse of the Chaco culture throughout a vast spare desert, paradoxically one of the most challenging environments of the world. Sponsored by the Friends of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.

Anna Sofaer discovered the Sun Dagger site in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a celestial calendar that marks the solar and lunar cycles in light patterns on spiral rock carvings. Following this finding she established the non-profit research group, the Solstice Project, and in collaboration with archaeologists, astronomers, geodesists and anthropologists, conducted extensive research on other astronomical works of the Chaco culture. Their studies showed that twelve of the major Chaco Great Houses are oriented to the sun and moon. The Solstice Project has also led efforts to protect Chaco’s fragile ruins and “roads” from recent rampant energy development. Now Sofaer and colleagues are exploring the astounding range of the powerful Chaco culture -- expressed in 150 Great Houses and engineered “roads” -- across the challenging desert of the Colorado Plateau of 80,000 square miles.

Sunday & Monday 27-28 March, 2016
“The Worlds of Cahokia and Chaco: Parallels of Cosmograhic Expanse and Power” Seminar with Timothy Pauketat, PhD, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and colleagues of the Solstice Project

This seminar explored the cosmological expressions of the two cultures. Although we have no evidence of direct contact, the recent findings by Timothy Pauketat, and the research by Hively and Horn on the Hopewell Mounds (presented in our earlier seminars), are showing an emphasis on the lunar cycles similar to the Chacoans’. Massive earth works are parallel in extravagance to the Chacoan architectural alignments and calendrical markings of the solar and lunar cycles. We explored what is alike in the ritual planning and labor behind these constructions and how they differ in particular qualities. Cahokia was a population center, Chaco was not, and yet the cosmologies were similar.

Sunday was dedicated to Dr. Pauketat's revealing and intriguing presentation, “Unpacking Cahokian Cosmology,” which demonstrated a deep concern of the Cahokians with lunar alignments, the association of the moon with water and women, and the rapid spread of Cahokian ritual culture over much of the Mississippi basin in just a few decades.

Monday included a number of talks on Chaco, as well as presentations of aerial photography, LiDAR and 3-D modeling of Chacoan sites with great potential to contribute to further research and future films. The presentations were “New insights into the significance of Chaco/Mesoamerican relationships,” by Rob Weiner, MA Brown University; “Expanse of the Chaco Cultural Region,” by visual artist Joe Dean and Solstice Project President Anna Sofaer; “The Sweep and Stunning Beauty of Remote Chacoan Great Houses,” by pilot and the Four Corners' leading aerial photographer Adriel Heisey; “The Chacoans’ Architectural Coordination: Their Coherence to Iconic Forms across 80,000 square miles,” by Rich Friedman, GIS specialist at San Juan College; “Exploring the Experience and Significance of Chaco’s Great House Complex,” by Joe Dean; “The North and the South: Chaco:Mesoamerica::Tibet:India,” by Andrew Sinnes, MA St. John's College; “The Role of Land joined with Astronomy,” by archeaologist Mike Marshall and Anna Sofaer; and “The Gambler,” by Rob Weiner.

Several significant themes emerged: the role of lunar alignments, of water and topography, of the huge expanse and the spread of these cultures, and their associations with Mesoamerica. Also, we reviewed the recent advances made in understanding Chaco by looking to Mesoamerica and through the use of modern technology. The group looks forward to summarizing these highlights in a short piece for public viewing. More details on the seminar here.



Sunday 27 September 2015
Full Lunar Eclipse, Lecture, Viewing, and Filming
Chimney Rock National Monument, Pagosa Springs, CO

The Solstice Project captured the total lunar eclipse for our film in progress, "Written on the Landscape: Mysteries Beyond Chaco Canyon." Our settings were two beautiful sites that express the union of astronomy and ceremony at an astoundingly distant relationship: Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, and Chimney Rock's Chacoan Great House.

Anna Sofaer spoke to a private group of monument volunteers as well as the public gathered to view the lunar eclipse.

More information here:

Friday 18 September 2015, 7:00 pm

"Experiencing Chaco's Cosmography in Virtual Journeys on Ancient Chaco Roads"
Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, NM

A public lecture by Anna Sofaer, President of the Solstice Project and Rich Friedman, Researcher and GIS Specialist.

June 2015
Timelapse Recording of Chaco Great House Full Moon Alignments at Minor Standstill
Chaco Canyon, NM

At mid-summer full moon in June, within a 48 hour period, an astounding six Chaco Great Houses were in alignment with the mid-summer full moon at its minor standstill. We filmed in timelapse the rising and setting of the moon, in perfect light, in alignment with the walls of several major buildings in Chaco Canyon, revealing again the Chaco culture’s remarkably deep engagement with the moon.


December 2014
Filming Fracking in Northwest, New Mexico

We filmed last week on the ground the ravages of many newly constructed roads, pipelines and well pads transforming the landscape east and north of Chaco Canyon. Some sites were within 15 miles of the canyon, where we found archaeological artifacts. On overcast nights the skies above this area are invaded by an eerie reddish glow from the fracking rigs. “Piñon Pipeline Endangers Chaco's Ancient Heritage”:

May 2014
Fracking Threatens Chaco’s Sacred American Heritage” Released

We produced and distributed an energy alert video “Fracking Threatens Chaco’s Sacred American Heritage” and, because of our campaign, more than 160,000 people signed a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging cessation of new leases until there is comprehensive assessment of the archaeological resources in the region. See our web site for a link to the video and please add your voice to the appeal.

The Solstice Project is cooperating with other groups, such as the Society for American Archaeology, the WildEarth Guardians, the Western Environmental Law Center and the Chaco Alliance, to help ensure that the Federal agencies facilitating these developments meet their legal obligations.  As we witness alarmingly destructive  “segmentation”  --- a path of chaotic development in the region --- we urgently call on the Department of Interior as a first step to preventing damage to conduct comprehensive archaeological surveys including lidar (aerial laser scanning) of the area of the Chaco region being considered for or actively being developed for energy extraction.

See our “Urgent Proposal to Record Chaco’s Prehistoric Roads” on our web site


April 2013
Commonweal Foundation Seminar:  Bolinas, CA

At the end of April, we were hosted by the Commonweal Foundation of Bolinas, CA to convene several scholars of Chaco and Mesoamerica to discuss the premises of our proposal that Chaco and certain Mesoamerican sites were developed -- at least in part -- as expressions of astronomy, geometry and latitude. These theoretical visions of the ancient Chacoans’ concerns require careful review and criticism, counter theories and analysis. The seminar is an opportunity for just that tough-minded and creative exchange.


Success in ending the proposal to pave the modern Chaco Road

Learn the story directly of how the San Juan County Commissioners  relinquished their effort to have the modern road paved, in the face of the pressures of protesting public interest groups and individuals -- including many of you. The proposed paving’s devastating impacts of overloading Chaco with tourism are circumvented.



Sunday 15 May 2011
Anna Sofaer and Rich Friedman "New Insights into Chaco Roads with New Technology"
Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, CO

The Hisatsinom Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society and the Anasazi Heritage Center co-sponsored this presentation, part of the Four Corners Lecture Series. Sofaer and Friedman discussed new technology – LiDAR (aerial laser scanning) – which they used to detect and record the subtle, and vanishing, features of sections of the Chacoan Great North Road. They shared their thoughts on the significance and possible purposes for the vast network of Chacoan roads, how their research sheds new light on this understudied aspect of Chacoan culture and how the research may, in fact, aid in the archival preservation of sections of the roads. 

Friday 13 May 2011

Interview with Chacoan Researcher Anna Sofaer by Tom Yoder on "Zines" at KSJD Public Radio in Southwest Colorado

Anna Sofaer talks about her research on the Ancestral Puebloan archaeology of Chaco Canyon and the latest studies on the Chacoan roads system. Download the interview from KSJD.

Monday 3 January 2011
Talks at Southwest Seminars

Rich Friedman on "the Chacoan Great North "Road" LiDAR project" and Anna Sofaer on "Ancient Chacoan Roads: New Aerial Technology Provides New Insights."

LiDAR (aerial laser scanning) of the Great North Road, funded by a grant to the Solstice Project from National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2010.

The mineral-rich San Juan Basin is rapidly undergoing energy exploration and extraction. Multiple modern roads crisscross the region, impacting the land and cultural features. The Chaco roads, seeming anomalies within the modern concept of roads, have remained understudied and unprotected. This project is intended to stimulate further research and preservation of this fragile yet crucial legacy.

The Great North Road appears to have had the purpose of relating Chaco Canyon to the direction north and to a badlands canyon, where it descends a steep slope into Kutz Canyon. Broken pots (probably ceremonially broken) and a stairway were found on this slope. In the traditions of Pueblo people, roads and the direction north have great spiritual significance.

Chaco Greater Landscape Selected for 2011 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

We are extremely pleased to report that responding to the Solstice Project’s nomination, the National Trust for Historic Preservation selected the Greater Chaco Landscape for its 2011 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places. This designation signals to the American public that numerous ancient Chaco buildings and roads – the monumental works of the ancestral Pueblo culture – are currently in danger of vanishing. Rapidly expanding energy development in the region, as well as ongoing natural erosion, imminently threaten the fragile sites and network of roads surrounding them. The area consists of 53 square miles (including Chaco Culture National Historical Park), along with a ten-mile wide buffer zone and approximately 30-mile buffered segment of the Great North Road.  This prestigious recognition by the National Trust for Historic Preservation of the worldwide value of the Chacoans’ heritage has also alerted the public agencies that manage the region to take the strongest possible actions to protect it.

For an update on other concerns for the protection of Chaco and for actions you can take, please see our Preservation Alert on our web site and for more details see You can help by commenting on a currently proposed General Management Plan to close to visitors a good deal more of the Park’s resources. You may also want to speak up for the removal or revamping of a grossly imposing water tank recently constructed above the Visitors Center.

Expanding Parallels II Seminar: Hopewell, Palenque, Stonehenge, and Chaco

In May, the Solstice Project hosted a seminar in Santa Fe with scholars of the cultures of Hopewell, Palenque, Stonehenge and Chaco. The presenters included Christopher Powell (Palenque), Bob Horn and Ray Hively (Hopewell), Anna Sofaer (Chaco), and the late Gerald Hawkins (power point recording on Stonehenge). A small group of archeologists, geologists, art historians, and Pueblo educators joined in the discussions. Our sessions were filmed so we can continue our study of their rich content and plan a film for PBS.

The seminar was inspired by evidence developed over the last several decades that these four ancient cultures integrated, in the layout of their monumental works, solar-lunar astronomies with special geometries -- and that they did so in ways uniquely corresponding to their particular geographies and topographies.

The New School of Commonweal in Bolinas, California, will honor the Solstice Project

The New School of Commonweal in Bolinas, California, will honor the Solstice Project, by co-hosting our upcoming seminar in the fall of 2012 as a continuation of Expanding Parallels II -- one of an ongoing series of Solstice Project seminars bringing together scientists of other ancient sites to explore astronomical findings parallel to those we have made in Chaco. We are working together on both publication and filming, with a $10,000 grant from the Jenifer Altman Foundation.

New Documentary Film on Chaco Roads

Recently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded the Solstice Project a grant to support a twenty-minute film production on the ancient roads of the Chaco culture. It will highlight the work we accomplished in 2010 with a previous NTHP grant that captured astoundingly precise imagery of the Chaco Great North Road using the new technology of aerial laser scanning (LiDAR). Last year’s Annual Letter reported some of our findings; key among them, compelling evidence that Chaco roads, despite their large numbers and their extensively engineered construction, were not means of travel or trade. Chaco roads are not roads.


June 2010
The Great North Road Presentations

The Solstice Project presented talks in Farmington, New Mexico on our new research in progress on the Great North Road. 

Thursday 21 January 2010
US Naval Observatory Colloquium, "Archaeoastronomy of the Chaco Culture of New Mexico: Research 1978-2010"  
Speakers: Anna Sofaer (Solstice Project, NM), Alan Price (ACCAD, OSU), and Richard Friedman (City of Farmington, NM)

This presentation showed documentation (1978-87) of the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a celestial calendar site created by the ancestral Pueblo culture between approximately 900 and 1100 AD. Three large stone slabs stand upright against a cliff near the top of Fajada Butte. The openings between the slabs cast light and shadow markings onto two spiral petroglyphs on the cliff wall. At 11:15 AM. on the summer solstice a dagger-shaped light pattern pierces the larger of the two spirals (1). Similar light patterns mark the winter solstice and the equinoxes. At one extreme in the moon's 18.6 year standstill cycle (the lunar minor standstill), a shadow bisects the larger spiral just as the moon rises; and at its other extreme, nine-and-a-third years later (the lunar major standstill), the shadow of the rising moon falls on the left edge of the larger spiral. In each case these shadows align with pecked grooves (2, 3).

In the 1980's the National Park Service closed access to the butte following documentation of damage and erosion at the Sun Dagger site due to excessive visitation. This presentation will show a digital restoration of the site completed in 2006 by the Solstice Project through laser scanning and with the computer design by Alan Price. This computer model accurately replicates the slabs, their environs, and the astronomical functioning of the site. With extensive interactive research tools it also serves as a model for research of the site's solar and lunar markings and its geometric relationships, yielding insights to the site's original development (4).

With the assistance of the National Geodetic Survey, in the 1990s the Solstice Project conducted a geodetic survey of the Chacoans' primary architecture. This survey revealed that twelve major Chaco buildings are oriented to the sun or the moon. In addition, the study showed that the internal geometries of the major buildings incorporate solar-lunar relationships. It also showed that the Chacoans organized their primary architecture in a complex regional pattern, with astronomical and probably religious implications (5).

In addition, the Solstice Project's study of the Great North Road, a thirty-five mile engineered road, suggested that it was probably developed by the Chacoans as a "cosmographic expression." This road extends north from the central architectural complex of Chaco Canyon to a badlands canyon. The Project's research revealed no evidence of utilitarian purpose to the road. Instead it appears that it was built by the Chacoans to commemorate the direction north and distinctive topographic features in the north, a most sacred direction in the traditions of the Pueblo people. [6] This presentation will show new evidence of Chaco roads uncovered by the use of LiDAR and describe the Project's efforts to expand LiDAR imaging of the Chaco roads, believed to number in the hundreds. The roads have been minimally documented and are endangered by rapidly expanding energy development in the region of the Chaco culture. 

15 February 2010, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm
Sun Dagger Explorer at the Roundhouse

As part of New Mexico Culture Day, the Solstice Project's Sun Dagger Explorer model was on view at NM State Capitol Building (The Round House) between 9 am and 3pm Monday Feb 15. This interactive model allows you to experience and view all the solar and lunar markings of the Sun Dagger site in replication of its natural setting. We are pleased that Chaco's astronomy has been so significantly honored.

September 2010
Expanding Parallels I Seminar

We reached beyond the Southwest in hosting a seminar in September with scholars of three North American cultures: Cahokia (St Louis), Hopewell (Ohio) and Chaco. For two days, we presented and compared our findings of astronomical alignments, ancient “roads”, and monumental architecture and earthworks. Several of these scholars had looked to our findings in Chaco to help decipher what at first were puzzling orientations of monumental works and roads. We were all struck by certain parallels. Each culture developed large works of earth and/or stone construction, exhibiting impressive geometries and often in meaningful alignment with distinctive topographies (rivers, expansive cliff formations and canyon mesas), as well as with the sun and moon. And they constructed roads not for trade and transportation but in relation to ceremonial structures. We also touched on the widespread documentation of roads throughout the Americas and committed ourselves, for a deeper understanding of Chaco roads, to encompass these as well in future studies.

December 2010
The Educational and Preservation work continues:

Anna Sofaer was hosted by Joann Crespin at the Santa Fe Indian School, teaching a class of Kewa (Santo Domingo) students. We experimented with the research version of the Sun Dagger Explorer model. As a part of the school’s Indigenous Language Institute, Johann teaches in Keres so our material was translated into traditional language and concepts. The educational version of this Explorer model continues to be on display in the N M Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque.

May 2010
Symposium on the Great North Road: breaks through the concept of Chaco roads as simply means of travel or trade.

We hosted this meeting of archaeologists and Pueblo educators to share the LiDAR imaging of the Great North Road that we concluded with the generous help of the remote sensing company, Bohannan Huston, Inc. The results are astounding: road segments that could not have been detected from ground or aerial survey became visible in the LiDAR imagery. Computer manipulations of the light source on the 3-D images bring out the subtlest of linear features, including one road with a depth of no more than three and a half inches.

Archaeologists John Stein, Fred Nials, Richard Friedman, Jim Copeland, and Winston Hearst, commented on the great effectiveness of LiDAR in accurately demonstarting the fragile and eroded Chaco roads.

June 2010

The Solstice Project organized a Conference on the Great North Road
Farmington, NM

The sessions were filmed for future use; the conversation and research continue.

The Chacoans’ investment in road development is extremely impressive. With highly skilled engineering, they designed rigorously straight courses extending up to fifteen miles across open desert, often connecting places that are out of sight of each other. With extensive sweeping and digging, they developed the roads to three to four feet in depth, in widths averaging 20 to 30 feet.

At our symposium Winston Hurst, a Utah archaeologist, demonstrated the great geographic expanse of the Chaco roads, showing some in southeastern Utah and others in southern Colorado. These were as elaborately expressed and associated with the same shrine-like features as those near Chaco -- but they were developed 100 to 120 miles to the north and northwest of Chaco Canyon.

Rich Friedman showed the enormous width of certain roads, up to 60 feet across, while also presenting a map of the Chaco region and demonstrating that roads could be occurring in the hundreds if not thousands across its 60,000 square miles. Most Chaco outlying “great house” architecture is associated with multiple roads; the count of these sites is believed to be more than 200: hence roads may exist in such great numbers. The time of road expression is also much longer than previously thought—they appear to have been made as early as 600 AD and as late as 1400 AD. In many instances, roads are developed in parallel courses, as we see with the Great North Road. And in some cases, more than two expressions of a road are evident.

Fred Nials, a geologist who has thoroughly studied several Chaco roads, expressed his surprise that in his thorough walking of the roads and their sides, he has found no evidence of ‘normal road use’. There is a striking absence of camp sites and of the debris that is found on the sides of most historic and prehistoric roads. Even an analysis of numerous sections of the Chaco roads showed little or no impact from use.

At the same time, an identifying feature of Chaco roads are the lines of ceramic scatters, through their central cores, some extending up to a quarter of a mile. Fred, along with several others, has come to see the roads, as relating Chaco’s ceremonial architecture (great kivas, tower kivas, and shrines) to distinctive features of the landscape: springs, buttes, pinnacles and caves. He described Chaco roads as “the connective tissue between different landscapes—the web holding landscape and structures together.”

These thoughts affirm concepts earlier developed by Mike Marshall and the Solstice Project in our studies of the Great North Road. But in addition to topographic alignment, this road reveals the importance of astronomical direction. We anticipate that investigating more roads may reveal others that mark solar or lunar positions. Recently, John Stein documented a road aligned to the winter solstice sunrise at Skunk Springs, a large outlying Chaco community.

More perspective came to us through seeing the images, presented by Rich Friedman, of certain roads north of Chaco Canyon that form large circular patterns. One that encompasses several large buildings of the Holmes Group, is a near perfect circle, close to 1000 feet in diameter –clearly not built for trade and transportation.

Having failed the test of utilitarian purpose, what are these elaborate linear expressions? John Stein, a breaker of old paradigms, has often led us into larger visions of the Chaco culture. He stated outright that the term “roads” is obsolete, preferring to describe these features as alignments. He noted “the basic characteristics and variability of the individual alignments and the regional scale of the landscape where they are manifest.” He said “these are the kind of features that are not amenable to traditional archaeological investigation.”

Stein’s understanding is that the Chacoans were creating a “linescape” --- sometimes manifested in roads and sometimes in lines or alignments, sometimes astronomical and/or topographic in direction.

Flora Clancy, an art historian, inspired another level of thought about the symbolism of roads. She suggested that “Roads and paths are conceptual metaphors for destiny and life” and that “movement through landscape creates places of memories.” She added that “ancient roads fall into an ambiguous area between known and unknown—representing materiality though sometimes difficult to detect.”

Further insight was added by Rina Swentzell of Santa Clara Pueblo as she experienced the Great North Road: “Doesn’t it give human meaning? I think we derive meaning in our lives right now, today knowing that there were incredible people here, people who had a visual sense that we can’t get close to. I mean what people were capable of seeing here was so fantastic and for us today that’s a gift; for us to know that we as human beings are capable of such beauty, of seeing it. It is a meaning. It gives us meaning.”

The late Ed Ladd of Zuni said (in our film “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon”) that the trail that for the Zuni connects the worlds of the living and the ancestors had great similarity to Chaco’s Great North Road. Indicating the profound significance that roads hold for his people, the late Alfonso Ortiz of Ohkay Owingeh translated the Tewa word for road as “channel for the life’s breath.”

Perhaps we will never know the purposes and symbolism embedded in the Chacoans’ extensive linear expressions, but at least we can open our minds to their unending mystery and devote our best efforts to record and preserve them. They offer future generations a compelling experience of a people who imprinted the earth with their profound connections to the natural world.


Wednesday 18 November 2009
Precise Time and Time Interval Meeting

On Wednesday, November 18 at 1900, PTTI 2009. Anna Sofaer presented a program on the Solstice Project research on ancient Chaco astronomy.

Friday 23 October 2009

Univerity of Colorado Lectures

Anna Sofaer gave two presentations: one at the University of Colorado Museum at noon and one at the Fiske Planetarium that evening, entitled "More on the Mysteries of Chaco."

Monday 19 October 2009
Santa Fe Archaeological Society Lecture Monday

Anna Sofaer's lecture used computer graphics and a digital restoration of Chacoan calendrical sites, providing new insights into the mysteries of Chaco Canyon.

Friday 15 May 2009
First museum installation of The Sun Dagger Explorer
an interactive computer model of the Sun Dagger site of Chaco Canyon
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, 1801 Mountain Road NW, Albuquerque, NM

The Sun Dagger Explorer will be for several years a component of 
"Space Frontiers", an exhibit on the history of Astromony in New Mexico
The ancestral Pueblo people developed the Sun Dagger, a celestial calendar site near the top of Fajada Butte, approximately one thousand years ago. This Explorer model, based on recent laser scanning, precisely reproduces the Sun Dagger’s astronomical functioning in its recreated natural setting -- light markings, cast by three large slabs onto two spirals, that record the solar and lunar cycles.
The Sun Dagger Explorer’s interactive tools invite dynamic participation with the site. It allows people to move their view of the slabs, the spirals and the sun and moon to all perspectives. They can also see the site at any time in the solar and lunar cycles and in its 360 degree environs atop the butte. The user can even view simultaneously the sun’s or the moon’s motions through the sky and the creation of the light markings on the spirals. Exploration with this model evokes an appreciation of the profound complexity and beauty of the Sun Dagger site.
Accompanying the Explorer is a photographic display showing how the Chacoans also aligned their elaborate buildings to the sun and the moon. These architectural alignments -- although some are located at great distances from the canyon -- are to the same key positions of the solar and lunar cycles that the Chacoan commemorated in their light markings on Fajada Butte. The Chaco astronomers coordinated a vast cultural region in a shared astronomical harmony.


Publication and talks on Chaco Astronomy: An Ancient American Cosmology book, and on the Sun Dagger Explorer
Page One Bookstore, 11018 Montgomery NE, Albuquerqu
e, NM

Saturday 19 April 2008, 11:00 am

Book discussion on Chaco Astronomy: An Ancient American Cosmology, by Anna Sofaer
Smithsonian - National Museum of the American Indian, Rooms 4018-19, Washington, DC


Tuesday 30 October 2007, 2:00 pm

Southwest Users Group Conference, Santa Fe, NM

Anna Sofaer will give the keynote address of the Southwest Users Group Conference at the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe. Geodisist and photographer William Stone, with Sofaer, will show the Solstice Project’s new interactive computer graphics model of the Sun Dagger site. They will discuss the history and process of developing the interactive model. There will also be a showing of The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.

Saturday 13 October 2007, 7:30 pm 
Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Chaco Culture National Historical Park hosts a lecture by Anna Sofaer with a screening of The Mystery of Chaco Canyon. There will be a question and answer session following the film.

Wednesday 19 September 2007, 7:00 pm 
CCA Film Theatre, Santa Fe, NM 
The American Institute of Architects presents the Solstice Project’s film The Mystery of Chaco Canyon. A reception and a question and answer session with Anna Sofaer will follow the screening.

Friday 14 September 2007, 8:30 am

Keynote address at the 1st Annual Southwest Night Sky Conference 

Taos, NM

Anna Sofaer will give the Keynote address at the 1st Annual Southwest Night Sky Conference  in Taos, New Mexico. 1:00 – 2:00 pm The Mystery of Chaco Canyon will screen with a question and answer session following the film.


Teaching with Kirby Gchachu and Students from the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI)
Photos by Katherine Mitchell and Kirby Gchachu

Anna Sofaer shows how tracking shadows cast by a stick could have given astronomical directions to the Chacoans. No compass would be needed for the precise alignments of their buildings. From left: Jessie Gachupin, Jannalee Armstrong, Sonja Ashley, Warren Edaakie, Craig Lamy, Mike Daney, and Anna Sofaer.


SIPI students study the beautiful kiva of Pueblo Bonito and the precise cardinal alignments of its internal features. From left: Jessie Gachupin, Warren Edaakie, Bannon Lomahquahu, Shirley Piqosa.


nna Sofaer points out the north-south alignment of Pueblo Bonito's mid-wall (arrow) to the sun at solar noon each day The students will observe the wall as it casts no shadow at solar noon.


At Pueblo Bonito's great kiva, Kirby Gchachu, SIPI teacher (second from left) with his students. From left: Craig Lamy, Kirby Gchachu, Jannalee Armstrong, Bannon Lomahquahu, Sonja Ashley, Jessie Gachupin, Warren Edaakie, Shirley Piqosa.


The Mystery of Chaco Canyon Released



The Mystery of Chaco Canon Completed



The Sun Dagger Released


Santa Fe, NM and Washington, DC

Solstice Project Founded by Anna Sofaer.

June 1977

Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon, NM

Sun Dagger Three Slab Site Discovered


All material on this site is © 2016 The Solstice Project