2013 Annual Letter

Please help the Solstice Project to continue its unique documentation of the vast Chaco World and to protect it from the ravaging impacts of fracking. We need your support to soon complete our new film for PBS: Written on the Landscape to be narrated by Robert Redford.

December 21, 2013

Dear Friends,

As we experience the dimming of the light at this time of winter solstice, our work at the Solstice Project has reached a time of still deeper learning about the Chaco culture’s great heritage. As our long-term supporters know, the Solstice Project (solsticeproject.org) has been investigating aspects of this impressive culture, beginning with the rediscovery of the Sun Dagger in 1978 and continuing through an exploration of the huge ceremonial buildings in and near Chaco Canyon.

We have recently explored the significance of the Chacoan complex radiating out from the canyon across 75,000 square miles of the Colorado Plateau — an area the size of Ireland. Unifying themes of Great House architecture are emerging throughout this vast desert region, revealing strikingly similar patterns of geometric construction and roads. The ritual nature of the most elaborate constructions is explicitly clear: hundreds of kivas, inside and near Great Houses, massive earthworks surrounding the Great Houses, and extensive roads.

To convey these larger dimensions of the Chaco world, the Solstice Project seeks funding to complete our new film (with the working title) “Roads That Are Not Roads: A Search for the Chacoan Linescape.” Like our earlier film, “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon,” this film will also be narrated by Robert Redford and be a candidate for PBS broadcast (“The Mystery of Chaco Canyon” has had a remarkably long run on PBS — 2000-2013 — and very wide educational use).

The hundreds of Chacoan sites and roads scattered throughout a major portion of the Southwest have received less attention than the central canyon, but may in fact tell a much more complex story. Now, for the first time, High Definition aerial imagery of these sites is being collected by the superb pilot-photographer Adriel Heisey. We estimate that Adriel has now seen and recorded more Chacoan buildings and roads from the air than anyone alive, and we are working with him to compile that information into a data bank and to use as beautiful images our new program for public television.

The great majority of outlying Chacoan sites have not been excavated and “reconstructed” like what we see in the central canyon. To that end, archaeologist Richard Friedman is working to create virtual three-dimensional models of the sites for our film. By combining remote-sensing data, laser scanning, and photography with his deep archaeological understanding, Rich is summoning forth towering Great Houses from piles of rubble. Rich has also led the Solstice Project’s effort to record and analyze as much of the Chaco region as possible with LiDAR — aerial laser scanning. This new technology is revealing Chacoan roads that are no longer visible to the naked eye.

Our greatest insights about the nature of Chaco society have come through our studying and filming its roads. “Roads” seem an unexpected subject for enlightening us. But these corridors, while built as wide and straight as modern roads, are not roads in our sense. The ancestral Pueblo people of the Chaco culture created hundreds of rigorously straight linear features throughout the Four Corners region. They are, according to archaeologist John Roney, author of the most penetrating analysis of Chaco “roads”, “the thread that ties it all together.” Their great number and size is evidence of their primary importance to the Chaco people. As Richard Friedman observes, “the investment of labor (with only sticks and baskets as tools) to create the ‘roads’ dwarfs that of the work to build the 150 Great Houses.”

Recent evidence shows that these “roads” were not used for trade or transport, posing one of the greatest mysteries in Southwestern archaeological studies. Pueblo people, however, have long accepted that “roads” signify something beyond utility. In Pueblo tradition they carry the power of the spirits and the ancestors. The late Alfonso Ortiz of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo implied a profound meaning to Chaco roads when he said that the word in the descendent Tewa language translates as “Channel for the Life’s Breath.”

The symbolic power of roads was made clear by Pueblo people in our earlier film “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.” They see Chaco’s Great North Road — a thirty-five mile construction — as connecting the ancestral people of Chaco with their place of emergence to the earth’s surface in the North. This extensive physical alignment is also seen as the symbolic avenue of ancient people’s movement to the South in their search for the Middle Place — the great ceremonial center of Chaco Canyon.

Our recent research, guided by archaeologist Michael Marshall, shows that many Chaco “roads” connect ceremonial architecture with distinctive topographic features such as pinnacles, springs and caves, and with astronomical directions. In our new film, several Pueblo people’s insights allow us to experience the spiritual dimension of the Chacoans’ relationship with their dramatically spare landscape and the cycles of the sun and moon. Many Chaco “roads,” while characteristically of great width and rigorously straight, are short — less than one mile — appearing as several spokes to and from the Great Houses. In our film, Phillip Tuwaletstiwa, a member of the Hopi Tribe and a colleague for more than three decades, says of such a road “exiting and entering a Great House…this line of spiritual energy anchors the Great House in spiritual space.”

Linear features throughout the world, such as the famous Nazca desert of Peru, are linescapes relating to sacred topography — and solar and lunar events — expressing traditional cultures’ connection with a cosmic consciousness. We see this as a subject of profound potential to awaken our modern culture to the multidimensional knowledge and accomplishments of traditional peoples.

However, rapidly increasing energy development in the San Juan Basin, as well as the processes of natural erosion, are threatening to erase Chaco “roads”, Great Houses and shrines before we can fully appreciate them. Our film calls attention to the urgent need for the protection and archival preservation of this invaluable heritage.

As a non-profit group, we greatly appreciate as always your vital support for our on-going work. Donations should be mailed to Solstice Project, 222 East Marcy Street #10, Santa Fe, NM 87501.

All best wishes,

Anna Sofaer
President, Solstice Project

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