At summer solstice in 1977 Anna Sofaer rediscovered the Sun Dagger site near the summit of Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon New Mexico. Following this finding, Sofaer conducted three decades of research on her further astronomical findings. Through the non-profit Solstice Project, she has coordinated the work of interdisciplinary teams – including astronomers, archaeologists, anthropologists, architects, computer animators and remote sensing experts. Sofaer published much of this research in nine scientific papers, now republished in Chaco Astronomy: An Ancient American Cosmology. Sofaer’s work has also included extensive educational presentations with schools, universities and archeological groups, as well as consultations with Pueblo educators who regard Chaco as a place with primary significance in their history.
In 1982 Sofaer produced, directed and co-wrote The Sun Dagger, an hour-length documentary narrated by Robert Redford and broadcast nationally by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). This film documents the Sun Dagger site’s intricate markings of the solar and lunar cycles with light patterns on spiral petroglyphs. The late Joseph Campbell and the late Alfonso Ortiz of Ohkay Owingeh express poignant insights into the Chacoans’ symbolic joining of the sun and moon.
In 2000 Sofaer produced, directed and co-wrote The Mystery of Chaco Canyon , an hour-length film also narrated by Redford and broadcast nationally by PBS and by the National Geographic Society on its international cable network. This film documents the solar and lunar alignments of the Chaco culture’s primary architecture and the cosmographic alignment of the Great North Road. Several archeologists and Pueblo people speak of the significance of these findings.
In 2010 Sofaer, with archeologist Richard Friedman, through the Solstice Project, recorded The Great North Road with lidar (aerial laser scanning). This effort, funded by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, precisely documented the Chacoans’ remarkably elaborate alignment to the North. It also affirmed the great efficacy of lidar to precisely record other Chaco “roads.” Following the Solstice Project’s nomination, the Great North Road is now designated as one of the “Eleven Most Endangered Sites” by the NTHP.
Currently Sofaer is producing and co-directing a third documentary Written on the Landscape: Mysteries Beyond Chaco Canyon to be broadcast by PBS and narrated by Robert Redford. The film will explore the great expanse of the Chacoan world --- a region of the American Southwest nearly twice the size of Ireland. It documents hundreds of miles of subtle and fragile linear alignments --- remarkably wide and straight --- that were once thought to be roads. In new revelations, the film shows how these alignments connect the Chacoans’ ceremonial Great Houses with places of power in the landscape. Archaeologists reveal evidence of their massive development for primarily ritual use. Pueblo and Navajo people give moving insights to their spiritual significance. Adriel Heisey’s magnificent aerial cinematography shows the sweeping expanse of the Chacoans’ works across one of the most challenging environments in the world. The film is co-directed with Matt Dibble who is also contributing his creative editing and cinematography.
Sofaer’s research findings have been presented in National Geographic, the Encyclopedia Americana, the journals Science and Science 80 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Carl Sagan’s COSMOS, textbook Astronomy: From Earth to the Universe and Archaeology, Joseph Campbell’s Atlas of World Mythology, and many other academic volumes and journals.
Anna Sofaer and her husband Michael Pertschuk live and work today in Santa Fe, NM.
The Solstice Project's research on the Sun Dagger site:
Sofaer, A., Zinser, V. & Sinclair, R.M. (1979), "A Unique Solar Marking Construct," Science, 206, pp 283-291; and Sofaer, A., Sinclair, R.M. & Doggett, L.E. (1982), "Lunar Markings on Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico," Archaeoastronomy in the New World, ed. A.F. Aveni, pp 169-186, Cambridge University Press.
Sofaer, Sinclair and the Solstice Project research team's documentation of solar markings on Fajada Butte that record solar noon, the solstices and the equinoxes:
Sofaer, A. & Sinclair, R.M. (1986), "Astronomical Markings at Three Sites on Fajada Butte", Astronomy and Ceremony in Prehistoric Southwest, ed. J. Carlson & W.J. Judge, Maxwell Museum Technical Series, University of New Mexico.
Research demonstrating that the Chacoan roads were probably symbolic expressions of the culture's cosmology:
Sofaer, A., Marshall, M.P. & Sinclair, R.M. (1989), "The Great North Road: A Cosmographic Expression of the Chaco Culture of New Mexico", World Archaeoastronomy, ed. A. Aveni, Cambridge University Press.
The Solstice Project's survey of Chaco's primary architecture:
Sofaer, A., Sinclair, R.M., & Williams, R. (1987), "A Regional Pattern in the Architecture of the Chaco Culture of New Mexico and its Astronomical Implications", Bull. Am. Astronomical Society 19. No. 4, pp 1044; and Sofaer, A. (1997), "The Primary Architecture of the Chacoan Culture: A Cosmological Expression", Anasazi Architecture and American Design, University of New Mexico Press.
Sofaer, A., Sinclair, R.M., and Donahue, J. (1990), "Solar and Lunar Orientations of the Major Architecture of the Chaco Culture of New Mexico," Proceedings of the Colloquio Internazionale Archaeologia e Astronomia, University of Venice. In studying the internal angles of the Chaco buildings, the Project discovered a solar-lunar geometry; Sofaer, A., (1994), "Chacoan Architecture: A Solar-Lunar Geometry," Time and Astronomy at the Meeting of Two Worlds, University of Warsaw. One key Chaco building, Pueblo Bonito, appears to be shown in its relationship to the sun in a petroglyph on Fajada Butte; Sofaer, A., (1994), "Pueblo Bonito Petroglyph on Fajada Butte: Solar Aspects," Celestial Seasonings: Connotations of Rock Art, Papers of the 1994 International Rock Art Congress, edited by E.C. Krupp.