Two whorl-shaped etchings near the top of Fajada Butte compose the “Sun Dagger” petroglyph, tucked behind the eponymous rock panels of the “Three-Slab Site”. They are symbolically focal.
It consists of two spirals — one principal and one ancillary. The latter left-hand spiral captured both spring and fall equinoxes; its artifice was revealed by a descending spear of light, filtered through the slabs, that shone upon it and split it in two. The former and larger whorl to its right was lit by the titular “sun dagger”, which bisected it through another interplay of slab and sunlight. It struck it, brilliantly, as the summer sun attains its solstice midday peak. The Chacoans were said to be marking, as artist, “Sun Dagger” discoverer, and leading proponent Anna Sofaer puts it, “the middle of time”. Each turn of the 9.25-turn large spiral was found to mark one year in the 18.6-year “lunar excursion cycle” of the rising mid-winter full moon. This record is kept by a slab-cast lunar shadow whose edge strikes in succession each ring. As the full “minimum moon” closest to the winter solstice rises, the shadow’s edge precisely strikes the center of the larger spiral; it steps outward year by year, ring by ring, until it strikes the outermost edge of it during the full “maximum moon”, again in mid-winter.
Fajada Butte bears five other petroglyphs — including a carving of a “rattlesnake”, other spirals, and a rectangle — that are conspicuously lit by contrasts between sunbeams and shadows during equinoxes or solstices. Public access to the butte was curtailed when, in 1989, erosion from modern foot traffic was found to be responsible for one of the three screening slabs at the “Sun Dagger” site shifting out of its ancient position; the assemblage of stones has thus lost some of its former spatial and temporal precision as a solar and lunar calendar. In 1990 the screens were stabilized and placed under observation, but the wayward slab was not moved back into its original orientation.
Some parties have advanced the theory that at least 12 of the 14 principal Chacoan complexes were sited and aligned in coordination, and that each was oriented along axes that mirrored the passing of the Sun and Moon at visually pivotal times. The first great house known to evince fastidious proportioning and alignment was Casa Rinconada: the twinned “T”-shaped portals of its 10-metre (33 ft) radius great kiva were north-south collinear, and axes joining opposing windows passed within 10 centimetres (4 in) of its center. The great houses of Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl were found by the “Solstice Project” and the U.S. National Geodetic Survey to be sited along a precisely east-west line, an axis that captures the passage of the equinox sun. The lines perpendicularly bisecting their principal walls are aligned north-south, implying a possible intent to mirror the equinox midday. Pueblo Alto and Tsin Kletsin are also north-south aligned. These two axes form an inverted cross when viewed from above; its northbound reach is extended another 35 miles (56 km) past Pueblo Alto by the ramrod-straight Great North Road, a pilgrimage route that modern-day Pueblo Indians believe to be an allusion to myths surrounding their arrival from the distant north.
Two shared-latitude but diametrically opposed complexes, Pueblo Pintado and Kin Bineola, are located some 15 miles (24 km) from the core buildings of the central canyon. Each lies on a path from the central canyon that is collinear with the passage and setting of the full mid-winter “minimum moon”, which recurs every 18.6 years. Two other complexes that are less distant from Pueblo Bonito, Una Vida and Peñasco Blanco, share an axis collinear with the passage of the full “maximum moon”. The terms “minimum” and “maximum” refer to the azimuthal extreme points in the lunar excursion cycle, or the swings in direction relative to true north that the setting full moon exhibits. It takes roughly 9.25 years for the rising or setting full moon nearest to winter solstice to proceed from its maximum azimuthal north, or “maximum extremum”, to its southernmost azimuth, known as “minimum extremum”.
Reasons for the alignments have been offered:
As these people would view the heavens … there was an order of things up there. What you had here … contrasted to that. Some years it was too dry, too hot … too windy, too cold. If there was a way to transfer the orderly nature of the cosmos down onto what seems to be chaos that exists here, then you begin to then integrate at this place both heaven and earth. And this would be … the center place.Phillip Tuwaletstiwa, U.S. National Geodetic Survey, The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.
- Magli 2009, pp. 137–139.
- Sofaer & Dibble 1999.
- Frazier 2005, p. 198.
- Frazier 2005, pp. 198–199.
- Frazier 2005, p. 221.
- Sofaer 1997.
- Magli, G. (2009), Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy: From Giza to Easter Island (1st ed.), Springer (published Apr 28, 2009).
- Sofaer, A.; Dibble, M. (1999), “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon”, The Solstice Project, Bullfrog Films, retrieved June 15, 2011.
- Frazier, K. (2005), People of Chaco: A Canyon and Its Culture, Norton.
- Sofaer, A. (1997), The Primary Architecture of the Chacoan Culture: A Cosmological Expression, University of New Mexico Press.
Originally published by Wikipedia, 08.24.2004, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.