2017 Annual Letter


Dear Friends,

On this day of the winter solstice, with the return of light and gradual lengthening of days, we offer our heartfelt gratitude for your continuing support of the Solstice Project. It has been an exciting and fruitful year, with new publications, ongoing efforts to protect Chaco from energy development, a rebroadcast of The Mystery of Chaco Canyon on KNME, as well as a new PBS special featuring our work. We are also excited to announce a bold new vision for the Solstice Project’s future including a book in progress featuring Adriel Heisey’s stunning aerial photographs, as well as a highly-interactive and dynamic revamped website that presents and archives our four decades of research. These efforts are only possible through your generous contributions, and we encourage you to make a tax-deductible donation to our non-profit (501c3) Solstice Project (click here to donate now).

In 2018, we will continue our use of state of the art technologies to learn from — and to share — extraordinary new views into the Chaco culture’s dynamic development, through centuries, across the vast Four Corners region. Our new website is inviting all levels of interest, ages, and background to enter the Chaco world. We offer our latest short films and 3D animations, recent research papers, and appeals to protect Chaco.

In truth, the complexity of Chaco defied the limitations of a one-hour PBS special. We tried and failed to compress our ever-evolving insights into a single hour. But, in the process of collecting more than 20 in-depth interviews and a unique visual record, we are now determined to create a series of short videos that go deeper into the themes of our earlier films and papers — roads and their cosmographic relation to landscape, the vast region of 150 Chaco Great Houses, solar-lunar astronomy, Mesoamerican connections, and more — inviting people to join our search and plunge into our latest insights and research.

This material will be further explored in our book in progress, Written on the Landscape: Mysteries Beyond Chaco Canyon by Anna Sofaer, with Adriel Heisey and Robert Weiner. The book, interlinked with complimentary short films hosted on our website, will have exquisite aerial photographs and footage by Adriel Heisey: a unique record encompassing Chaco’s expanse of Great Houses and roads throughout 75,000 square miles. The grandeur of the Chaco world will also come alive through the voices of archaeologists, Maya scholars, astronomers, and Puebloan and Navajo people drawn from our extensive interview materials.


In our films and book, we will unveil new 3D computer recreations of Chacoan architecture, integrated with Adriel’s aerial photographs, to convey the tremendous monumentality of Chaco’s ritual structures. Here, you can enter the monumental and formidable Pueblo Pintado in a model and animation developed by our colleague Joe Dean. Similarly, using GPS mapping and pole aerial photography, our colleague Rich Friedman has created an exact replica of Pueblo Bonito, seen here in its final stage of grand extravagance.

The enigmas and mysteries of the Chaco culture cannot be puzzled out intellectually alone. The films and animations will create authentic experiences of the Chacoans’ world. The Chacoans were inspired by a compelling place and its brilliant skies to create an “empire” of cosmology. We have been privileged to be a part of that world in our efforts to record and recreate its original story.

Now, we also feel a pressing need to archive and transfer to high grade digital format our film footage of the Sun Dagger site and many other of the Chaco sites in their astronomical alignments, as well as our rich set of interviews that we conducted since 1979, including Joseph Campbell, Alfonso Ortiz, David Warren, several of todays’ leading Southwestern archaeologists, Mesoamerican scholars, and many Puebloan educators.

Chaco research is always confronted with the hard question: why did the people choose the harsh and challenging location of Chaco Canyon for the center of their expansive culture? Recently, we were able to present our newest insight into the moon as a key to the magnetism of the rugged Chaco Canyon on PBS’ KNME ¡COLORES! This eight minute piece highlights Chaco Canyon’s topographic alignment to the major standstill moon, and shows with our modeling that one of its most stunning Great Houses, Peñasco Blanco — as though in commemoration of this event — is itself also oriented down the canyon to this moon rising at its southernmost position in its 18 to 19 year cycle. See also our two-minute video of Maya scholars Alonso Mendez and Michael Grofe discussing the moon’s symbolic significance during a recent visit to Chaco.

In one of the most mysterious and expansive earthworks of the ancient world, the Chacoans created a web of “roads” connecting their ritual buildings to the surrounding buttes, pinnacles, springs, and canyons in an apparent plan of sacred landscape. The rigorously repeated patterns of geometrically planned Great House complexes modeled after the central canyon, with their associated “roads,” show a remarkable dominance from Chaco Canyon. How and why did the Chacoans create this expansive influence without writing, math, the horse, weapons, or an army?

We do not find easy answers, but we can now meet the challenge of mapping and recording Chaco’s nearly incomprehensible expanse with new technologies and thereby help to protect it. Our LiDAR recordings, recently published in the journal Advances in Archaeological Practice, show the subtle “roads” that are most vulnerable to energy development and other erosive activities.

I am assisted in these many endeavors by remarkable Robert Weiner, a young scholar of Chaco and the Solstice Project’s Research Associate of the last two years. Our efforts to write a book and more research papers, and to create new web films, will continue through the upcoming months. See below and follow us on our website for further details.

Finally, we have continued our educational outreach with numerous public talks throughout the past year. In August, Anna and Rob were honored to present a two hour talk on Chaco at the Santa Fe Indian School Convocation in August. We also spoke at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History with an introduction by Paul Pino of Laguna Pueblo in February, as well as in two sessions for the RENESAN Institute for Lifelong Learning last winter.

Chaco’s great legacy is now endangered more than ever through intensifying energy developments and continuing natural erosion. The revelations of our book and new videos — and enlivening animations —will help to gain the support of the public and policymakers to attend to the urgency for Chaco’s preservation.

All best wishes,

Anna Sofaer

President, Solstice Project

222 E. Marcy St., Ste. 10

Santa Fe, NM 87501




More Information on our Recent Activities


See here for a comprehensive New York Times article titled “The Treasures of Chaco Canyon are Threatened by Drilling” by Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In a recent Associated Press article, Anna Sofaer is quoted about the importance of protecting Chaco from energy development, saying ““I think it’s our obligation as people who’ve been working with Chaco for decades to bring out to the public and to the people who affect policy the great value of going back and connecting with the people who were so connected with their natural world.”

Additionally, our fracking alert has been viewed over 521,000 times on Facebook and over 15,000 times on Vimeo. This video rallied major public support for Chaco’s protection,

In August, Rich Friedman and Rob Weiner represented the Solstice Project at a conference titled Chaco Landscapes: What We Know and What We Don’t organized by Chaco archaeologists Ruth Van Dyke, Carrie Heitman, and Steve Lekson. Participants discussed efforts to protect the Greater Chaco Landscapes amidst ongoing threats from oil and gas development – including hydraulic fracturing – in the San Juan Basin. Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Archaeology Southwest, Pueblo of Acoma, Navajo Nation, and various universities were in attendance for these conversations about the protection and preservation of Chaco’s invaluable and irreplaceable cultural heritage. Paul Reed compiled an informative short report based on the conference proceedings.

Rich Friedman presented his exciting recent work using the cutting-edge technologies of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and Structure from Motion Photogrammetry (SfM) to document Chaco Great Houses and roads. These techniques can detect incredibly subtle traces of Chaco roads and map architecture with centimeter accuracy. They also reveal enigmatic and fascinating aspects of Chacoan architecture, such as the consistent pattern of road entrances through narrow passageways between mounded earthworks into the great houses themselves. The most vulnerable of the Chaco features are the roads that expand beyond the protective boundaries of the Great Houses. Because of their faint signature they also cannot be easily detected without these new technologies. They are critically important for protection and preservation of these sites.

Rob Weiner complemented Rich’s presentation with a review of Solstice Project findings of Chacoan astronomy and cosmography. He suggested that any consideration of the Chaco “landscape” must involve awareness that Chacoan sites are organized in relation to the sun, moon, and cosmos, and how Chacoan “roads” articulate with striking features of the landscape such as canyons, buttes, caves, and pinnacles.


The Solstice Project is excited to have published two groundbreaking peer-reviewed papers in 2017. Our LiDAR recording of the Great North Road was published as “Remote Sensing of Chaco Roads Revisited: Lidar Documentation of the Great North Road, Pueblo Alto Landscape, and Aztec Airport Mesa Road” with Richard Friedman in Advances in Archaeological Practice. Our work on inter-site alignments of shrines in Chaco to the major lunar standstill with William Stone was published in a book entitled The Science of Time 2016: Time in Astronomy & Society, Past, Present, and Future .

In May, Anna and Rob traveled to Mexico City to participate in a seminar at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)’s Institute of Historical Investigations led by Dr. Johanna Broda and titled “The Perception of Time, Space, and Territory: Ritual Landscapes and Astronomy in the Americas.” Anna presented a bold new paradigm of “The Chaco Order of Earth and Sky: An Integration of Astronomy, Geometry, Topography and Latitude,” and Rob presented “Chaco Canyon and Mesoamerica: Exchange of Ritual Goods and Cosmologies.” This stimulating, bilingual meeting involved comparative discussions that broadened our perspective on Chaco within the context of Greater Mesoamerica. A book derived from the conference, with two chapters co-authored by Anna and Rob, is underway and will be published by UNAM’s Institute of Historical Research.

Building on the boundary-pushing insights of our time in Mexico City, we hosted Maya archaeoastronomers Michael Grofe and Alonso Mendez for a tour of Chaco Canyon. During this stimulating trip, we expanded our concept of Chaco’s ritual landscapes and astronomical expressions in relationship to the complex astronomy and mythology of the Maya. See here a short 2-minute film showing some of the highlights of our visit.

In addition to completing the writing of our book Written on the Landscape: Mysteries Beyond Chaco Canyon, Anna and Rob plan to produce numerous research papers on Chacoan cosmography, rock art, architectural geometries, and proto-surveying techniques.


In August, Anna and Rob were honored to present a two-hour talk for the Santa Fe Indian School Convocation. It discussed the threats to Chaco from energy development and the importance of protecting ancestral sites. We highlighted our use of LiDAR and 3D modeling to bring the Chaco world to life.

Other 2017 talks included a presentation at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History with an introduction by Paul Pino of Laguna Pueblo, as well as a two-part class at the RENESAN Institute for Lifelong Learning in Santa Fe.

Independently, Rob Weiner presented his research on Chaco gambling, exotica, and roads at Harvard University, Aztec Ruins National Historical Park, the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society, the Santa Fe National Forest Site Stewards, and for the Homolovi Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society.

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