2012 Annual Letter

Summary of the 2012 Annual Letter

December 21, 2012

Dear Friends ,

Greetings at this beautiful winter solstice time. Once again I greatly appreciate your support and interest in our Chaco work. We have two exciting film projects underway. The second project, I believe, especially raises important questions for our times.

New Films:

First, we have nearly completed a new thirty minute documentary about the Chaco Roads, titled “Roads That Are Not Roads — In Search of the Chaco Linescape.

This film shows how our recent use of an amazing new technology (funded by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation) LiDAR–laser scanning from the air–is revealing Chaco roads nearly lost to human perception on the ground. After a decades-long fallow period, this LiDAR mapping of the Great North Road has reinvigorated research into these fascinating constructions. Although hundreds are believed to exist, their recent study has been minimal and many remain unrecorded and unprotected.

As oil and mineral extraction rapidly expands in the region, LiDAR may provide preservationists with the necessary evidence to prevent further destruction. Archaeologist Rich Friedman describes the roads as “…an investment of labor and planning by the Chacoans that dwarfs the Great House buildings themselves.”

This film explores the evidence and conclusion by several archaeologists that many of the Chaco roads, while built elaborately wide and rigorously straight and some for great distances, had no utilitarian use. Rather it appears that the Chacoans created these extensive linear features as a “linescape” (in the words of archaeologist John Stein) marking their relationships with special features of the landscape and of the celestial cycles: buttes, canyons, caves and springs, and astronomical directions.

Secondly, and most challenging, I am at the start of another film that will synthesize the findings of The Sun Dagger and The Mystery of Chaco Canyon, with a wealth of new findings from the intervening years, into a proposed unifying theory for the purpose and meaning of Chaco’s monumental constructions. Briefly, it is about how, through their uniquely massive and non-utilitarian structures, the Chacoans appear to have integrated the sun and moon with sacred geometry. The internal angles derived from the walls of solar and lunar aligned buildings are among the “Pythagorean” angles and the Golden Section geometry that so enchanted the ancient Greeks, and that form the building blocks of nature.
An observation first recorded by John Stein and Taft Blackhorse

Astoundingly, the latitude of Chaco Canyon proves to be an essential part of this geometry: these specific angles can only be generated in relationship to the sun and moon near the canyon’s latitude of 36 degrees. In as little as 150 miles to the north or the south these convergences would not exist.

While Southwestern archaeologists have searched over decades — with considerable frustration — for ways to explain Chaco’s astonishing fluorescence in an extremely barren land, we posit that it is just this stark environment, along with its geographic and topographic attributes, that compelled the Chacoans to create a spiritual center of such magnitude. We will show how only at the latitude and topography of Chaco was it possible to express the unity of four sets of knowledge and concerns — astronomy, geometry, latitude and topography. This layering of aesthetic and cosmological expressions is what makes Chaco “make sense.”

From this exploration of Chaco’s unique situation, the film will proceed to open up the putative border — often rigidly held in Southwestern studies — between the American Southwest and Mesoamerica. We will draw on recent chemical analysis of cylindrical containers found in Pueblo Bonito revealing traces of cacao, a substance whose source was probably the deep tropics and which was used ceremonially by Mesoamerican cultures. The Chaco ceramic cylinders containing the cacao appear to have similar shapes to certain Mesoamerican vessels. In addition, thirty macaws were ceremonially buried in Pueblo Bonito. Like the cacao, these birds were probably raised as far south as the tropics and associated with sacred activities. Some scholars believe that turquoise crafted in Chaco was traded to the South in exchange for cacoa. The trade of such materials of religious import must have been accompanied by exchange of knowledge and ideology.

We will explore parallel expressions of astronomy and geometry with Christopher Powell, a brilliant Mesoamerican scholar. He will demonstrate how the Maya constructed ceremonial architecture based on “Pythagorean” geometries similar to those apparently used in Chaco, but unique to the astronomy of their latitude. Powell also will introduce a crucial concept for the film: the occurrence of the Golden Section in New World architecture. With the proportions of the Golden Section appearing repeatedly in their buildings and iconography, Powell will show us how the Maya internalized this aesthetic from the simplest yet most profound sources: the growth patterns of shells and flowers. (See his doctoral thesis “Sacred Space” on Maya Exploration Center web site: www.mayaexploration.org/research_pubs.php)

The spiritual significance of the ancient Americans’ use of special geometries is ineffable for us today but it must have been of major importance in their lives. It occurs in Chaco and in Mesoamerica in buildings of monumental scale and charismatic presence — comparable to the great sites in the world of ritual architecture and religious pilgrimage.

The larger import of this film will be the unveiling of a kind of knowing amongst the Chacoans and other ancient Americans, so different from ours, through their different relationship with nature: one that opens our minds today to a shifting perspective on our own relationship with nature. The Chacoans brought a fundamental understanding of the special geometries of nature into the construction of their religious architecture as a way to be in profound harmony with the cosmos — the sun and the moon, the land itself, and the divine forces. And they did all this in a most rugged and challenging landscape, requiring extreme exertion of planning and labor.

Because this proposed understanding of Chaco leaps beyond most assumptions of Southwestern studies, our presentation will include a play of counter proposals and perceptions of Chaco. The viewers are invited to arrive at their own insights.

Advances in 3-D animation technology only now make it possible to bring to life the brilliant concepts of the Chacoans and their visions — how they melded astronomy, landscape, and special geometries in their minds’ eyes — expressions that we can perceive only through aerial imaging and remote sensing techniques. We will employ both of these ways of seeing: through computer animation and aerial imaging.

This film may have its special time now because we are where we are today, facing the destruction of a nurturing earth, through an overpowering use of its resources and a wasting of its potential to support us. The Chacoans reached an understanding of the great complexities of nature and its exquisite interconnections and yet apparently they too exploited this knowledge.

We gain insights from the thoughts of descendant Pueblo people. In the words of Paul Pino of the Pueblo of Laguna (in “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon”): In our history they talk of things that occurred a long time ago, of people who had enormous power, spiritual power, and power over people. I think those kind of people lived here in Chaco. And he says further: They made changes in nature that were not meant to happen.

Simon Ortiz of the Pueblo of Acoma has written that the arrogance and disrespect of the Chaco people for creation led to “a battle with the sacred powers,” leaving us to wonder at the ambitions of human beings to have power over nature and the wisdom of reducing that power to a reciprocal relationship with the earth — as the Pueblo people did following their history in Chaco.

Plans for a New Seminar:
At the end of April, we will be 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.

Continuing Remarkable Success of the PBS broadcasts of “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon”: The film was first broadcast in 2000, and since in many parts of the US over the last 12 years, and again last week on prime time in New Mexico. People are watching the film over and over. In the words of Franz Joacham, Director of Content: “Since its premiere in 2000 The Mystery of Chaco Canyon has aired over 1000 times nationwide in 141 markets. New Mexico PBS has broadcast the program over 70 times. The Mystery of Chaco Canyon continues to garner high ratings whenever we broadcast it.”

Success in ending the proposal to pave the modern Chaco Road:
See link www.daily-times.com/farmington-news/ci_22126823/county-cancels-chaco-canyon-road-project?source=rss to know 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.

Your donations are tax-deductable and as always greatly appreciated.
We look to you at this early stage of our new film effort for your continuing interest and support to the thoughtful and sensitive unveiling of Chaco’s astounding accomplishments.

All best wishes,


Anna Sofaer
President, Solstice Project
220 E. Marcy St., Ste. 10
Santa Fe, NM 87501

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