The Mystery of Chaco Canyon
Unveiling the ancient astronomy of southwestern Pueblo Indians
56 minutes, Color
Grade Level: 7-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 1999; Copyright Date: 1999
Directed by Anna Sofaer
Produced by The Solstice Project
Narrated by Robert Redford
Written by Anna Sofaer and Matt Dibble
Music by Michael Stearns
(check your local station for listings)
Rent and stream the full version HERE.
"I am grateful to Anna Sofaer for involving me in her decades-long passion to explain this extraordinary and magical place."
"The video...becomes part of the ongoing dialogue between archeologists, anthropologists, and native peoples...(It's) a multi-level phenomenon, like Chaco, which embraces complexity, beauty and mystery."
Rina Swentzell, Architect, Santa Clara Pueblo
"A captivating look at one of the most impressive archaeological sites in North America...Anna Sofaer reveals the solar and lunar complexity of Chacoan buildings with impressive visual economy and clarity. In the process, we get a whole new picture of the intelligence at work behind Chacoan society and its architecture...The Mystery of Chaco Canyon interweaves a narrative that is both attentive to indigenous thought and values, and robustly grounded in the rigors of scientific method. Well-paced and absorbing, simultaneously poetic and analytical, this film provides a new benchmark of understanding for serious studies of ancestral-Pueblo astronomy and culture."
Dr. Peter Whiteley, Dept. of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History
THE MYSTERY OF CHACO CANYON examines the deep enigmas presented by the massive prehistoric remains found in Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico. It is the summation of 20 years of research. The film reveals that between 850 and 1150 AD, the Chacoan people designed and constructed massive ceremonial buildings in a complex celestial pattern throughout a vast desert region. Aerial and time lapse footage, computer modeling, and interviews with scholars show how the Chacoan culture designed, oriented and located its major buildings in relationship to the sun and moon. Pueblo Indians, descendants of the Chacoan people, regard Chaco as a place where their ancestors lived in a sacred past. Pueblo leaders speak of the significance of Chaco to the Pueblo world today.
The film challenges the notion that Chaco Canyon was primarily a trade and redistribution center. Rather it argues that it was a center of astronomy and cosmology and that a primary purpose for the construction of the elaborate Chacoan buildings and certain roads was to express astronomical interests and to be integral parts of a celestial patterning.
While the Chacoans left no written text to help us to understand their culture, their thoughts are preserved in the language of their architecture, roads and light markings. Landscape, directions, sun and moon, and movement of shadow and light were the materials used by the Chacoan architects and builders to express their knowledge of an order in the universe.
This is the long-awaited sequel to Anna Sofaer's classic film THE SUN DAGGER, which changed forever our perception of America's earliest Indian peoples.
Awards for The Mystery of Chaco Canyon
- Taos Talking Picture Festival
- Silver Plaque, The Chicago International Television Competition
- Bronze Plaque, Columbus International Film & Video Festival
- Honorable Mention, The Archaeology Channel International Film & Video Festival
- American Museum of Natural History, New York
- National Museum of National History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
- Aboriginal Voices Festival, Toronto
- Hot Spring Documentary Film Festival
- Heard Museum Indigenous Film Festival
Audience Ratings for the Summer 2000 PBS Premiere of The Mystery of Chaco Canyon
The average PBS primetime audience rating is 1.6. The PBS premiere of The Mystery of Chaco Canyon was in Summer 2000 and garnered significantly higher ratings in most markets and exceptional ratings in the markets listed below. Since that time, our film receives consistent rebroadcasting on PBS stations.
- San Diego - 4.6
- Denver & St. Louis - 4.0
- Phoenix - 3.9
- Oklahoma City - 3.6
- Dallas - 3.5
- Salt Lake City - 3.4
- Sacramento - 3.3
The Mystery of Chaco Canyon" and "The Sun Dagger" are available for HOME use and for EDUCATIONAL use. The EDUCATIONAL version has an accompanying Teachers Study Guide. Half hour versions of both films are avaliable for teaching (please email firstname.lastname@example.org for this option).