Chaco Canyon Archaeoastronomy


(Colorado Plateau Series, Book 8)



© 2018

<<<featured on my Amazon Author’s Page:>>>)

(Volume VII of XV)

Notice to the reader: The authenticity of this text is accurate and based on reliable interpretative research correlating to, say, a standard endorsed by the National Park Service. This miniseries features a concise narrative based on the indigenous culture of the Colorado Plateau Province featuring the Ancestral Puebloans. The information is divided into fifteen subtopics so that readers have the option to peruse individual chapter material or select and specific topics that appeal to one's interest. Because this text can be read in such a fashion, there is overlapping subject material throughout this abridged compendium but presented in more detail as befits the topic of the selected volume. Except where noted, the research for the text is based on a variety of observations. Therefore, entailing the academics of archaeology, anthropology, and human history, all specializing in the American Southwest. Unless otherwise specified, the collective term, "researchers" or "cultural scientists" will apply for these respective and primary academic disciplines. 

 Volume I A Comprehensive Primer (p.5)
 Volume II The Pecos Classification System (p.36)
 Volume III A Georitual Landscape (p.43)
 Volume IV The Utility of Pottery (p.57)
 Volume V Rock Art (p.68)
 Volume VI Intro to Archaeoastronomy (p.76)
 Volume VII Chaco Canyon Archaeoastronomy (p.93)
 Volume VIII Archeological Benchmarks (p.106)
 Volume IX Warfare and Cannibalism in the Southwest (p.121)
 Volume X The Great Drought and Diaspora  (p.155)
 Volume XI The Puebloans (p.194)
 Volume XII The Hopi People (p.216)
 Volume XIII The Zuñi People (p.225)
 Volume XIV A Time Machine Excursion (p.228)
 Volume XV The Ancestral Puebloan Homeland (p.239)

This seventh installment continues the fascinating subject of archeoastronomy, and this time with a focus on Chaco Canyon’s singular solar and lunar-aligned design of many of its stupendous dwellings. Please note key benchmark eras listed throughout this series are governed by the Pecos Classification System (PCS). The authenticity of the subject matter is accurate and based on reliable interpretative research correlating to, say, a standard endorsed by the National Park Service. Instead of footnotes, Additional Background inserts appear throughout the text. Since there are no direct quotes mentioned throughout the text, the Bibliography also attests to much of the source material for each narrative. Naturally, the author expresses personal opinions from time to time.

Prologue: Volume VI revealed the specifics about archaeoastronomy, whose subject matter is highly recommended to the reader. In this volume, the information is entirely devoted to Chaco Canyon’s watch on the cosmos. Chaco’s compound in northwestern New Mexico is comparable to a ceremonial center, whose detailed layout has everything to do with the sun and the moon. Its establishment can be thought of as another manifestation of Mecca, only the nature of Chaco Canyon’s (hereafter, “Chaco”) affairs was geared to abstruse ceremony, the likes of which remains, for the most part, undisclosed to outsiders. Therefore, centuries-old secrets known only by some Puebloans. Likely, the Hopi know even more because some researchers believe the founders of Chaco represent the Scarlet Macaw Clan, which traces its roots to the founders of Chaco (This website has more to say on this subject matter:

Chaco’s preeminent archaeological setting denotes a typically dry basin that measures some 100 miles (160 km) across. Thus, the desert environs of Chaco Canyon. This ceremonial compound and the region was founded long before its renowned reputation as an archaeoastronomy site, whose allure for Ancestral Puebloans happens somewhere between 950 and 1150. By then, sizable floor plans for dwellings aligned to the sun and the moon represent the finest architecture in North America. Moreover, the builders had a specific design in mind for many of these structures. Some designs were geometrically obscure compared to other settings, like England’s Stonehenge or Easter Island (annexed by Chile). Given these singular designs, many dwellings throughout Chaco were solar aligned, and some were even lunar aligned. Therefore, another first in architectural design and layout.

Chaco is indeed remarkable in all respects. With its combined thousands of chambers, and ceilings weighing as much as 90 tons (81.6 metric tons) each, it is estimated about a quarter of million pine trees were felled. Probably, ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa) was the favored genus, which was harvested from distant mountains some 50 miles (80 km) away, then hauled across the high desert. Likewise, hundreds of Ancestral Puebloans transported the lumber over rugged terrain. That mustered labor force was akin to a steady procession that might have rivaled Egypt’s great pyramid builders. Like the Egyptian laborers who moved heavy stones over a makeshift conveyor platform of similar trees, the Chacoan laborers may have taken such means in a new direction: rolling branchless trees with their feet. If so, it was a relatively easier means compared to carrying the heavy lumber on their shoulders.

As alluded to, most of the dwellings at Chaco were ceremonial structures. Therefore, the compound was designed for that purpose. Approaching Chaco Canyon, a simile of cathedrals rising from the desert floor comes to mind. Surprisingly, only a small year-round population lived here. These residents were caretakers and priests, the latter performing daily and steadfast observations of the night sky. Given this declaration, it follows Chaco was not intended as a year-round settlement for a larger community. The main import of its affairs was also centered on cosmology. Therefore, a settlement built exclusively for the purpose of predicting four notable celestial events––the equinoxes and solstices. The village design of Chaco also had a distinctive quality apart from all other Ancestral Puebloan settlements. Thus, an unprecedented enclosure of dwellings capable of supporting thousands of people (i.e., during select times of the year). Indeed, the purposeful layout was similar to other ancient religious locales in the world, except there was something utterly distinctive about the overall layout and function. For instance, the processional thoroughfares in Chaco’s spacious hub, where every structure was meticulously engineered. The dwellings, and some like cloisters, were built straight, and, therefore, never rounded. Elaborate stairways were common and carved into bedrock walls used to access upper levels leading from the canyon floor. Thus, another idiosyncratic Chacoan design and feature that sets Chaco apart from all other Ancestral Puebloan settlements. Strolling through this compound, one gets the feeling the architects were mandated to devise a superior design for all the structures, and with an established leitmotif inherent in the blueprints––cosmology.

In the assembly of Chaco’s numerous dwellings, curved-walled temples were built, with nearby block-laden smaller compounds for residents who came to the region for part of the year. These travelers were either devotees coming to Chaco or else neighboring Ancestral Puebloan communities, whose people helped build and maintain the site. Housing, however, was only constructed on the south side of Chaco Canyon’s wash while the north side was solely used for public dwellings. These dwellings were the so-called Great Houses, each with numerous kivas. 

Without question, nothing like these elaborate structures existed anywhere throughout the Four Corners region, much less in North America. Most dwellings were also larger than contemporary structures such as the Taj Mahal. The thrust of activity took place in what the renowned archeologist, Steve Lesson, dubbed “Downtown Chaco.” Its neighborhood was where the greater dwellings were also built. 


A Compound, Like No Other: The designers, architects, builders, and ceremonial priests who created Chaco Canyon’s layout and dwellings were manifestly and profoundly interested in the cosmos. Consequently, the preciseness of key structures matched an exacting blueprint. It follows how these instrumental Chacoans in the establishment of the company conceived a plan long before construction began. How many years it took to observe the cosmos before the plan was implemented is not known. What is known, however, is the fact it would have taken a prolonged period to accomplish what needed to be studied before the construction phase, and especially specific structures correlated with scrupulous and patient observations of the cosmos (see below). The purpose, of course, was the annual order of the four seasons that gave the designers and builders a sense of purpose and confidence in both the celestial and temporal realms.

As an imaginative concept, Chaco was a ritualized landscape denoting a single and reliable ideology that bound the Ancestral Puebloan culture with extraordinary calculations to do what had to be done. Thus, it is surmised they may have thought themselves a temporal extension of the eternal. Hence, the cosmos itself.

Conceivably, Chaco serves as the most pivotal Ancestral Puebloan archaeological site regarding its founding and cosmology. Other archaeological sites throughout the Southwest are also important (i.e., Chimney Rock, Casa Grande, and Petrified Forest’s solar markings, among some few others). However, Chaco holds a noteworthy place in most archaeological studies. Moreover, there is a religious momentousness associated with this site unlike no other archeoastronomy site in North America. Apart from the solar and lunar alignment of some dwellings, a renowned petroglyph near the top nearby Fajada Butte serves as a Rosetta stone. In fact, the glyph was made by these people, and, therefore, had everything to do with their predictive powers and intelligentsia given its explicit placement and location. There’s also a remarkable story about this inscribed stone whose details entail an uncanny and unexpected discovery. Some might even say an auspicious find that was meant to be.


Between 850 and 1250, Chaco Canyon’s remote setting was the most celebrated Ancestral Puebloan site on the Colorado Plateau (hereafter, “Plateau”). This setting’s cultural unity spread outward, and like spokes from a great wheel, all roads led to its ceremonial center. The first of its kind in the Southwest, Chaco’s imperium ruled by Ancestral Puebloan priests was a significant venue where the story of the Ancestral Puebloans’ intellectual and religious advancement begins. Therefore, symbolizing the epitome of the previously mentioned cosmology aspects and temporal outlook governing all aspects of their lives.

Why did the Chacoans choose to build this fantastic array of dwellings in this region? To be sure, Chaco Canyon’s environs is far off the beaten path, yet its locale was chosen, it is assumed, for a centralized locale favorable to all Ancestral Puebloan settlements. In fact, the region is so large that many known archaeological sites still haven’t been excavated. Chacoan buried chambers are also likely treasure troves that may someday be unearthed––if such sites are excavated. Moreover, there are numerous other sites that still haven’t been registered (for future archaeological digs).

Given Chaco’s religious and ceremonial nucleus was designed for a specific reason, the question can be raised, Was its setting intended, first, as an expansion of empires from Mexico and Mesoamerica? Certainly, some researchers consider this possibility. There’s also another question that lends support to this query: Why did some Ancestral Puebloans come such a long way to be part of whatever Chaco’s ultimate purpose was intended? Some foster the view Mayan or Aztec design, as well as the mathematics of building structures addresses both queries. Unquestionably, Chaco was an unprecedented setting. Its center was also open for part of the year, and, therefore, never a permanent settlement; at least, not per se. Allowing for a likelihood how the express purpose of Chaco was a ritualized and ceremonial center of worship and practice, apparently, a ruling elite was established to govern its public affairs. It also thought or assumed this chosen echelon resided in the Great Houses used for noteworthy ceremonies. 

Additional Background: Consider how the Roman Catholic Church that began its establishment during the 1st-century, in Rome, and eventually spread to all parts of the world. Therefore, constructed church-oriented establishments (i.e., basilicas, churches, cathedrals, rectories, even schools). Next, consider the often touted point how the Chacoans expressed their knowledge centered on an order in the cosmos by designing, orienting, and locating their dwellings in a direct relationship to the sun and the moon. That said, such knowledge would have to be based on advanced mathematics, architectural, and design skills; also, unerring scientific observations, as well as a social cohesion and intention to study and learn from such cosmology and temporal affairs geared to the Ancestral Puebloan mindset. Therefore, a comprehension that likely was influenced by the Mayans, Aztecs, or Inca civilizations. (This website reveals more about the mystery of Chaco Canyon: Allowing for this speculation, it follows how sending emissaries––architects and high priests––north, and overseeing the Ancestral Puebloans construct a ceremonial center in the guise of a large compound. Once the center was open, and a Chacoan hegemony in place, yet surreptitiously ruled by a southern civilization that was behind the development and prerequisite designs. Here’s another website with more revealing details about this subject matter:

Other than the speculative reasons who, as a civilization, might have been behind Chaco’s design and function in Ancestral Puebloan ceremonial aspects, there are other compelling theories fostered by some researchers that suggest its seeming cosmological significance might also have served as a shopping mall of sorts intended to redistribute food and apparel, including bartered traded goods such as jewelry ornaments, conch shells, parrot feathers, and pottery. Perhaps some of the structures also stored such items. The fact there were thousands of intact vessels discovered here suggests these, among other items, were brought to Chaco for some purpose; that is other than for showcasing. 

From all the above, something consequential happened here long ago. Indeed, nothing like Chaco had ever been realized before as a concerted effort of building and elaborate design for most of the compound. It follows, if the structures were used for different purposes from one generation to the next, then what defines those purposes? This point also begs the question of Chaco’s functionality in the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans. For instance, some researchers consider Chaco was intended as a major center of religious worship at one time, and later as a place of bartering, perhaps even gambling. What is known among the many unknown factors is how civilization for the Ancestral Puebloans began here early on in Chaco’s development. It was indeed a scaled-down version of Mesopotamia or Mecca of its day.

A Fortunate Find, Indeed: In 1977, an artist, Anna Sofaer, chanced upon and recorded a famous petroglyph on a southeast-facing cliff on Fajada Butte. Later referred to as the Sun Dagger site, she ascended the butte, and close to the summit she noted three large stone slabs leaning against a cliff face. The slabs were intentionally placed by the Chacoans, which channeled light and shadow markings onto two spiral petroglyphs inscribed on the wall. But it was on her second visit that startled her, by which all else soon followed. Observing the spirals she noticed a slender dagger of light (as she later describes it) passing between the two rock monoliths, whose beam of life bisected one of the spirals. At about 11:15 in the morning, which happened to mark the summer solstice, Anna waited and watched how a dagger-shaped light formed and pierced the larger of the two spirals. Having the sense and wisdom to comprehend the importance of the monoliths, she returned many times to confirm what she thought was happening at this unknown site (at the time the site was unknown). After continued studies of the symbol represented by the glyph, she had discovered something significant that supported her original thesis about the engaging symbol. Her supreme discovery proved the Chacoans interest in the cosmos had everything to do with the changing four seasons their lives and culture revolved around. As mentioned, a lucky find, indeed, but also a rare discovery that proved to the world what Chaco’s true significance meant.

Later, and this time during the winter solstice, this so-called amateur cosmologist noticed and recorded how the sun dagger had sliced through a nearby smaller petroglyph. Additionally, the two parallel daggers bracketed the larger spiral at the spring and fall equinoxes. Anna Sofaer’s discovery cannot be any less important than the first archaeologists who stumbled on Chaco Canyon’s ruins below the previously unknown astronomical observatory of Fajada Butte. Indeed, Anna, who later considered herself an amateur archeological sleuth, turned out to be a giant in a field of giants, all of whom have come to admire greatly her resourcefulness. From a dilettante who happened to be in the right place at the right time, Anna Sofaer’s archaeological discovery was indeed one for the record books. More than this claim to modest fame, she had the sense to return to the site and confirm, then reconfirm, her astute findings before sharing her observations with professionals. 

Additional Background: Despite her chance and astonishing discovery, Anna’s findings touched off a flurry of controversy; at least, initially this was the case. Researchers representing a variety of academic disciplines were, therefore, skeptical of her conclusions. The overall reaction was a preset bias based on the artist’s amateur credentials relative to the broad field of archeoastronomy. Her critics further pointed out how the sun was not known to be represented by a spiral in any Ancestral Puebloan rock art! Thus, if the odd markings had served as a tool of prehistoric astronomy, then would not these prehistoric people have chosen a more appropriate symbol? Of course, everything, as the saying goes, turned out in the wash, at least, in the final analysis.

The Precise Mathematics Of The Sun Dagger Glyph: Sometime after the discovery of this world-famous glyph, studies revealed how the larger spiral's shape tracked a 18.6 lunar cycle. This secondary, and equally amazing, discovery packed quite a wallop for minds that, otherwise, were not convinced there was anything special in the Anna’s Sofaer’s original findings. Tracking lunar cycles is also an astronomical feat unheard of among North American cultures, although such a skilled practice was known to the Toltecs of Mexico and the Mayans. The sun dagger, therefore, tended to confirm a prevailing academic hypothesis that Chaco’s compound was located at the end of a Toltec trade route and specifically evidenced by such treasures as mother-of-pearl artifacts and macaw feathers. Implements, like these from the Pacific Ocean (also the Gulf of Mexico) and jungle terrain, typify anomalies that could only be procured using well-developed, trade routes. The more the seemingly simple rock carvings at Fajada Butte were studied, of course, with credit due to the astute artist who first discovered the glyphs, the more mysterious they became.

Even before that momentous discovery, Chaco Canyon had been considered a compelling riddle from the researchers’ point of view. Rising like an odd-shaped pyramid 480 feet (146 m) above a broad, planed floor, in contemporary times, Fajada Butte holds a major clue to Chaco’s archaeoastronomy significance. Hence, a notable spiral inscribed inside its stone sanctuary. The spiral is as mystifying as it is inspirational. Over many decades, the fascination of archaeoastronomy has unleashed a rash of new ideation about the equally enigmatic people who observed the heavens above Chaco, then recorded specific events with extreme detail and clarity. Unfortunately, disaster struck ten years after the glyph’s discovery: the erosion of the clay and gravel around the base of the stone monoliths altered their precise alignment. As the slabs inched down the steep slope of the butte, the sun dagger image vanished. Having unobtrusively marked the passage of seasons for many centuries, it was ironic how this virtual stone sundial had endured only ten years after its discovery, but then its predictive importance was lost forever. Nevertheless, studies at the site have revealed invaluable historical information about the ingenious skywatchers who made it.

Associative Theories: With the sun dagger glyph comes various interpretations by various researchers. Accordingly, the slab appears to display major features of the ground plan of one of Chaco’s most famous and largest ruins, Pueblo Bonito. This iconic spiral also expresses the profound interest of prehistoric Chacoan culture in the solar cycles. Four aspects of the sun dagger’s petroglyph are, therefore, important: 
  • A distinctive similarity to the ground plan of Pueblo Bonito.
  • The solar orientations inscribed on the glyph. 
  • The motif of other solar petroglyphs near the summit of Fajada Butte.
  • An attestation to the intelligentsia of the Chacoans, particularly how and why they predicted celestial events that directly influenced their lives. 

Furthermore, the interpretation of the spiral is consistent with cultural evidence of the association of its arrow image with the cosmology of these people during the time they observed the cosmos. Their sophisticated cosmology entailed in this marking, therefore, represents the importance of the changing four seasons, as highlighted by the equinoxes and solstices.

A common query that arises from these theories is how do the sun dagger image track the sun and the changing seasons? The response is timely, in the sense observers monitored multiple happenings on select days of the year. For instance, at midday, say, high noon, priests observed two openings between the slabs that formed vertical shafts of sunlight on the face of the cliff. The changes so noted also occurred throughout the year. The circadian paths of the dagger-shaped patterns also changed with the sun's declination. As the patterns intersected the spirals, the equinoxes and solstices were uniquely marked. 

Tracking what was happening throughout the year is precisely why observers made frequent treks to the site. It follows how there must have been year-round observers (priests) assigned to this task, taking note of the changes when Chaco wasn’t inhabited en masse. The most important function of the changes was noted at the summer solstice. This occurrence happened when one dagger of light appeared to lower and penetrate through the center of the larger spiral. Then, on succeeding days, the observer (or observers) watched as the dagger gradually descended and moved to the right of center. As the summer progressed, and the sun's declination noticeably decreased, the position of the dagger progressively shifted to the right, thereby moving across the large spiral. A second dagger of light also appeared to the left. However, its appearance was not accidental. Months later, the exercise of observation was revealed during the autumnal equinox. Accordingly, the second dagger noted its specific function in the scheme of things, for it bisected the smaller spiral. The smaller spiral is also the second most important glyph the Chacoans made. 

From the fall to the winter, the daggers continued moving to the right until, at the winter solstice, both symbols bracketed the large spiral, thereby holding it empty of light. Following the winter solstice, the cycle reverses itself until the next summer solstice.

Manifestly, the solar markings on this exclusive sandstone panel are consequential movements as they are precise. Moreover, at sunrise, the inner edge of the eastern slab casts a shadow on the larger spiral. The edge of this passing shadow then crosses the spiral, thereby indicating the sun's declination is positive. In other words, its position shifts leftward. Notably, between the equinox and solstice, the movement across the slab is a slow average of 1 inch (2.5 cm) per week. At the equinoxes, there is another distinct change noted: the shadow edge does something different by filling in the far right groove of the spiral. Noting this second possible marking of the equinox, some researchers surmise it can be inferred how the sunrise shadows might form a second set of intentional solar markings. As it turns out, the precise position of the shadows of the summer and winter solstices appear to be of no real significance. Instead, what happens on June 21 or 22 is how the shadow edge falls between the center and the left edge of the spiral while the edge is well off the spiral on December 21 or 22. Although the location of the shadow edge on the spiral typifies an indicator of changing solar declination for half the year, its use or purpose seems, at first glance, perplexing. This dilemma has sparked further and closer observations of what, exactly, was notable about what was missing for half the year. Eventually, the queer matter was resolved. That research follows.

As to that, this website (, entitled “An Analysis And Interpretation Of The Pueblo Bonito Petroglyph On Fajada Butte In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, by Jack McGhie, and these image diagrams presented on this site (, will render more background about this esteemed Chaco Canyon glyph; so will reading this narrative by the founder of the dagger, as it were: “Chaco Astronomy: An Ancient American Cosmology,” by Anna Sofaer.

A Dilemma Mixed With The Facts: Given the astonishing universality of the sun dagger image, and especially the immensity of its sophistication, the design and placement of the slabs, and how the glyphs were useful to the Ancestral Puebloans for countless times goes without saying. However, there is an intriguing additional conundrum researchers tried to understand: What was the meaning behind a mix of light and shadow appearing on the face of the glyph? The source of this captivating mystery was obviously centered on the sun’s light. Specifically, when it was positioned at a declination of +18.4º (between mid-May and late July), a shadow at sunrise bisected the large spiral. This common astronomical observation records how the left half of the spiral is in shadow while the right half is in light. Hence, a classic Taoist yin-yang iconic representation. 

This initial, and perplexing, definitive split finally made sense to observers. At these times, they came to realize the sun is approximately at the declination of the moon at, what is called, the Northern Minor Standstill as opposed to a major lunar standstill. The edge of this shadow is, therefore, aligned with an engraved groove that extends from the spiral's center to the lower left edge, which also draws attention to this particular occurrence. A further stimulus to search for lunar significance suggests something, even more, astounding to researchers: due to the sun and moon’s dual roles in Ancestral Puebloan cosmology here was an archaeoastronomy site where the sun was so clearly marked it would also include the moon! And the sun dagger glyph does just that (see below for more about lunar significance to the Chacoans).

Chacoan Cosmology And Architecture: During the period 900-1130 (an estimated benchmark), the Chacoans built its greatest, and numerous, multistoried buildings, as well as extensive roads throughout the 49,710 square miles (128,748.3 km²) encompassing the San Juan Basin region. Recent scientific interpretations from researchers suggest several of the larger central buildings, especially Pueblo Bonito, were used primarily for ceremonial purposes. Furthermore, Chaco Canyon’s setting was designed as a ceremonial center for outlying Chacoan communities and numerous roads coursed through its center. Hence, a brilliant network of engineered routes that connected the Ancestral Puebloans in practical and meaningful ways. 

When their communities gathered here and assuming for the purpose of pivotal seasonal changes, ceremonies began, in earnest. Very likely, some ceremonial aspects that remain outside the purview of all others, with the exception of the Puebloans.

As previously noted, Chaco’s significance as an archeoastronomy site is nothing less than extraordinary. Other than the sun dagger site, there were other astronomical discoveries that were made such as the solar noon and standstill positions of the moon in thirteen light markings on petroglyphs (also inscribed at Fajada Butte). The solar and lunar significance cannot be overstated due to the singularity of their combined effect enhancing Chacoan archeoastronomy and its influence on their cultural and religious mindset. (The previously mentioned websites also mentioned these points, as well as what follows in this volume.) For instance, eleven of the major Chacoan buildings are directly oriented to the sun and moon. Each of the major buildings also has an internal geometry that corresponds to the relationships of the solar and lunar cycles. Additionally, most of the major buildings are organized in a solar-and-lunar pattern arrangement. Pueblo Bonito, which is located at the approximate center of Chaco Canyon, and serves as a central role in this unique pattern. If there are other solar and lunar sites combined, then Chaco Canyon excels above all others.

Apart from the Fajada Butte’s most celebrated pictograph, there’s another significant glyph found on the summit. This so-called solar petroglyph appears to display the major features of the ground plan of Pueblo Bonito. Its other remarkable significance points to a Chacoan specialized interest in solar cycles. Measuring 9.4 inches (24 cm) by 14.2 inches (36 cm), and located about 32 feet (10 m) west of the sun dagger site, the markings on the glyph were made to follow the sun’s track. It also indicates features of the great pueblo, Bonito, and particularly one of its many kivas, which can be distinguished from the other kivas. For the sake of distinction, it is designated “kiva A” in the following explanation.

Here, again, kudos and credit are given to Anna Sofaer given her article entitled, “Pueblo Bonito Petroglyph On Fajada Butte: Solar Aspects (, the breakdown of which goes as follows. Facing east, during each of the equinoxes the diameter of the glyph’s semicircle is oriented north-south, thereby corresponding to the azimuth of the sun’s meridian passage. With its consequential vertical radial line, the depiction on the face of the glyph is directly (read, “purposely”) oriented toward the sun’s zenith and nadir. The drill hole––which appears to be associated with kiva A––penetrates the cliff surface in a westward direction, just as kiva A penetrates the floor of the canyon. The western section of the pueblo’s long front wall (also known as a “diameter wall”) is also oriented east-west. This critical direction marks the rising and setting sun during the equinoxes. Along with the diameter wall, there’s a radial wall (oriented north-south), which is perpendicular to the western wall’s diameter. The radial wall is also perfectly aligned to the azimuth of the meridian passage of the sun at noon. Moreover, the internal features of kiva A are oriented to the four cardinal directions. It may be further considered that the vertical axis of this specific kiva relates to the nadir and zenith directions. 

As a representation of the essential solar elements of Pueblo Bonito's seeming corresponding design, this summit glyph expresses solar relationships to the midpoint in the sun's yearly passage, as well as to the midpoint in its daily passage. In representing kiva A the petroglyph, the sun’s nadir and zenith are, therefore, expressed. 

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the glyph and its telling evidence comes to a point of meticulous correlation. In this sense, correlating the track of the sun with such preciseness, which entails the architecture (i.e., where the kiva was built) came after the science, and all necessary calculations recorded on the glyph.

Cardinal Orientations: Pueblo Bonito’s corresponding petroglyph on Fajada Butte is oriented to the four cardinal directions, as well as to the zenith and nadir. Hence, another surprising aspect of this celebrated glyph. Each of the main orientations of this centralized structure is, therefore, transmuted in the petroglyph to another cardinal direction to another side. The directions are as follows: 
  • the east-west diameter wall of Pueblo Bonito is north-south in the petroglyph; 
  • the north-south interior wall of Pueblo Bonito is the nadir-zenith in the petroglyph, and
  • the nadir-zenith orientation of kiva A is east-west in the petroglyph. 

This information’s full account is presented in the previously mentioned article by Anna Sofaer. 

Daily and precise calculated movements over a period of about a half-hour during the meridian passage of the sun causes a unique display to happen. Namely, the visibility of the solar petroglyph changes gradually from full sunlight to full shadow. Curiously, the light and shadow transformation does not involve a distinct marking on the petroglyph. However, what this significance meant to the Chacoans is not known. It also seems likely that its effect was noticed by the observer(s) in charge of monitoring these changes, who then made numerous light markings that recorded the sun's meridian passage of petroglyphs on the butte. It may even have been an effect intended by the Chacoans in their placement of the petroglyph on a cliff face with a north-south orientation. Again, such speculation carries with it the weight of an answer that may one day be discovered. After all, look how much this butte has already taught researchers about the mindset of these astute watchers of the cosmos.

Additional Background: As a note of interest, and mainly to stir the imagination, at summer solstice during the sun's meridian passage, a stick inserted into the drill hole of the solar glyph casts a vertical shadow that falls approximately along the radial line. Such an inserted stick would, itself, point approximately 90º away from the astronomical zenith to the equinoctial sunrise. Again, the significance of this observation for the Chacoans is obscure to modern researchers. (And, yes, Anna Sofaer raised this point in her article, as well.)

The Importance Of The Lunar Cycle: Considering Chaco Canyon’s lunar-aligned ruins, it’s apparent the moon, like the sun, also played a significant role in the augury of archeoastronomy’s science and capabilities. The position of each cycle signified by a New or Full Moon relative to the season was, therefore, strictly observed. The precise position of the sun throughout the solar year would have told the observers what, where, and when they should engage in some designated activity or ceremony. Indeed, such cycles were always far-reaching for civilizations that counted on the accuracy of reading the signs. 

For example, where people should look for game or fish, migration to more hospitable areas, and where to find wild fruits and nuts. Thus, key cultural necessities for the biological time concept. For the Chacoans, however, their observations were more likely restrictive and based on the fact they were not a nomadic society that did not depend on migratory needs. Nevertheless, the observance of changing solar and lunar light or shadows held sway over their reasons to build the numerous dwellings in this location, and where most of the structures were relational to the sun or the moon. Indeed, why pay attention to such details if there was no corollary for the Chacoans, particularly the importance of lunar-aligned dwellings?

Additional Background: It is interesting to note how some modern-day calendars still show the harvest, hunter, and other moons, albeit these remnants from an earlier time mean very little in our present technological age. However, this information was vitally important to some prehistoric and historic peoples. It follows how the appearance of the moon in all its quarters was the focal point of cosmology in select and perceived ways, and where the sun was least important.

Tracking The Moon’s Phases: Keeping tabs on the moon’s intervals cover a span within each 29.5-day lunar cycle, and like other prehistoric people, the Ancestral Puebloans marked the passing days by such calculated lunar phases. Such events were also only administered by select members of a cultural group such as a high priest or tribal leader. Whoever did the calculations, he would count the days from the time the moon disappeared at New Moon (day 29) or reappeared at the first Crescent Moon (day 1), thence counting the days when the moon waxed toward its maximum illumination and brilliance. Therefore, the count extended to the next New Moon phase.  

Apart from the Ancestral Puebloans, there were other cultures that were dependent on when the best time of the month was for fishing. Consequently, the people paid close attention to when fish were on the move or still in the water. For instance, people in the Northwest depended on such movement of salmon, which was the mainstay of their diet, and, therefore, not meat. Such prediction based on the lunar cycle told the people when fishing was advantageous or a waste of time. Indeed, there are numerous anecdotal stories of indigenous people throughout the world who timed the arrival of certain fish species to plants, insects, and birds, which could be earlier or later in some years. The slightest mistiming by the person in charge, a priest, or shaman (or by any other name), could have resulted in dire consequences for the tribe that vitally depended on his prediction. Rounding out the aspects of such subject matter, this URL (, on chronobiology, provides a decent overview.

A Relation To Puebloan Fables: Turning, now, to what the Puebloans think about the wealth of cosmology spawned and fostered by their ancestors, there is another peculiarity of the sun dagger glyph that adds its intrigue centered on the combined subject matter thus far presented in this volume. In this case, a reference of the glyphs’ spiral curls above the diameter line, and, specifically, how the arrow points possibly represent an additional and unknown solar feature. In fact, the association of spirals with solar events is repeatedly exhibited on Fajada Butte. The previously mentioned eleven markings of shadow and light on petroglyphs near the top of the butte also commemorate the solstices, equinoxes, and meridian passage of the sun. Eight of these markings occurred on spiral petroglyphs and given this particular petroglyph, the arrow points to the spiral and the zenith. Hence, a seeming solar association.

Given the cosmology of Puebloan traditions, and from the article cited earlier (by Ms. Anna Sofaer), the arrow, particularly the bow and arrow, are associated with the sun. In certain Pueblo traditions, for instance, the arrow is seen as both a vertical axis and relating the nadir and the zenith of the sun or else the world below and above. In a version of the Zuñi creation story, the Sun-Father gives his sons bows and arrows. Hence, he directs them to lift, with an arrow, the Sky-Father to the zenith. In other versions, the sun directs his sons to use their bows and arrows to open the way to the world below for the Pueblo people to emerge to the Earth's surface and the sun's light. At the solstices, contemporary Puebloans give offerings of miniature bows and arrows intended for the sun. The sun is also depicted by Puebloan groups as carrying a bow and arrow. Hence, not a toy icon or a prized hunting device that was used for many centuries.

More Relevant Fables: Some features of the Pueblo Bonito petroglyph on the summit of Fajada Butte suggest its solar character and significance. As such, for the Puebloans, as it was for their ancestors, there is power in their cosmology. During the winter solstice festival, Spider Woman, for the Hopi, honors her presence in their lives, as well as the Hawk Maiden. The celebration concerns the sun’s victory over winter’s darkness. Soyal (sometimes called soyalangwul) is another famous winter solstice ceremony and is observed by both the Hopi and Zuñi . Held on December 21, the main purpose of the ritual is one of ceremony. Hence, bring the sun back from its long winter slumber. This intention appears to be a consistent theme in many cultures throughout the world. It also marks the beginning of another cycle called the Wheel of the Year (originally, a Wiccan and Neopagan term for the annual cycle of the four seasons), which consists of eight festivals spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year). This noteworthy event is especially a time for purification. Prayer sticks, called pahos, are made before the Soyal ceremony and intended to bless all the community, including their homes, animals, and plants. Kivas are ritually opened to mark the beginning of the Kachina season. Considering the significance of the Puebloans’ Wheel of the Year festive days, the solstices and equinoxes each have a special ceremony associated with their coming. (Consult this URL for more universal background: ( In the twenty-one Puebloan communities, each pueblo schedules a specific theme pertinent to the season. Most of the ceremonies also have an underlying common theme, albeit each Puebloan culture considers this or that aspect more important for its community.

(end Volume VII)