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).
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)
"Well-paced and absorbing, simultaneously poetic and analytical, this film provides a new benchmark of understanding."
Peter Whiteley, Chair, Dept. of Anthropology, Sarah Lawrence College
Below is a 10 minute edited introductory clip of the full hour of "The Mystery of Chaco Canyon"
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.
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.
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 Sun Dagger
"It changes forever history's perceptions of America's early Indian colonists."
The astonishing discovery of an ancient celestial calendar in Chaco Canyon, NM
(28-minute version available)
Grade Level: Grades 7-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 1983
Copyright Date: 1982
Directed by Anna Sofaer and Albert Ihde
Produced by The Solstice Project
Narrated by Robert Redford
This classic, timeless film documents the extraordinary celestial calendar created by ancient North American Indians, and rediscovered by artist Anna Sofaer, high on a butte in New Mexico. The "dagger" is presently the only known site in the world that marks the extreme positions of both the sun and moon. The film explores the complex culture of the Anasazi Indians who constructed the calendar, and thrived both spiritually and materially in the harsh environment of Chaco Canyon a thousand years ago.
Study guide available
Blue Ribon, American Film Festival
CINE Golden Eagle
Margaret Mead Film Festival
"It changes forever history's perceptions of America's early Indian colonists. And as an astronomical and geometrical marvel, it ranks with the Pyramids and Stonehenge."
"THE SUN DAGGER is a "must-buy" for school districts and public libraries."
Media & Methods
"The multidisciplinary nature of this film makes it possible to use it in many classroom situations. The excellent teaching guide, written by Don Reid, vastly improves the film's instructional value."
Journal of College Science Teaching
"Both (versions) are excellent."
Editor's Choice, Science Books & Films
Reviews for The Mystery of Chaco Canyon:
"I am grateful to Anna Sofaer for involving me in her decades-long passion to explain this extraordinary and magical place." Robert Redford.
"'The Mystery of Chaco Canyon' superbly explores an enigma in the desert and sheds light (literally) on the constant quest of humanity to create order and patterns from the unknown -- the Chacoans did a millennium ago with their structures, and archaeologists are currently doing so with its ruins. What lingers in Sofaer's film is a remarkable mix of mysticism and science that is Chaco Canyon." Connie Wethington, Los Angeles Times
"This documentary...uses computer graphics and other high-tech methods as well as interviews with archaeologists and archaeoastronomer Anna Sofaer - who produced, directed, and co-wrote the film -- to make a compelling case for this ancient people's astronomical prowess." Barbara Phillips, The Wall Street Journal
"The time-lapse photography and computerized 3-D demonstrations marvelously explain how generations of Chacoans engineered the world's only known site constructed to mirror perfectly both solar and lunar cycles. And you thought the pyramids were impressive." Sandra P. Angulo, Entertainment Weekly
"An old, abandoned building site in the middle of the desert hardly seems like a topic for a fascinating TV show. However, 'The Mystery of Chaco Canyon'...turns it into a fascinating reality...The story is a tantalizing whodunit." Tom Dorsey, The (Louisville, KY) Courier-Journal.
"Quiet aerial shots of the 1,000-year-old Pueblo Indian civilization are astounding. The explanation of the intricate astronomical system is compelling...Viewers will come away respecting Chaco's ancient structures as marvels." Joanne Ostrow, TV Critic, The Denver Post.
"A stunning piece of work -- the graphics are astounding and the entire production is powerful." Dr. R. Gwinn Vivian, Ex-Curator of Archaeology at the Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona.
"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.
"From the pyramids and temples of Egypt, to England's Stonehenge, (ancient peoples) locked their buildings to the movements of the sky gods. Now, with a definitive study, Anna Sofaer shows that the Pueblo cultures of the southwest US deserts were a high climax to this bonding with the sky...Certainly Chaco was the great center of civilization in North America, long before Columbus landed." Dr. Gerald S. Hawkins, Commissioner, History of Astronomy, International Astronomical Union
"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." Peter Whiteley, Chair, Dept. of Anthropology, Sarah Lawrence College
"It does an outstanding job of weaving Pueblo traditions of migration and human agency into scientific accounts of the past at Chaco Canyon, affording both forms of knowledge the respect they deserve...helps place Pueblo people in their contemporary context, as well as explain the past...I highly recommend it." Dr. T.J. Ferguson, Anthropologist/Archaeologist
"A beautiful piece. The composition and photography could not have been better...the public...will eat it up and ask for more."
F. Joan Mathien, Archaeologist, National Park Service
Reviews of The Mystery of Chaco Canyon Teacher's Study Guide:
"A film and study guide that will stimulate your students' understandings about the southwest and its first inhabitants. Place your students' experiences in the shadow of a civilization that knew and understood much or more about the world, the heavens, and its cosmology long before modern scientists came along." Dr. Christine Sims, Acoma Pueblo, Professor, University of New Mexico, Director, Linguistic Institute for Native Americans
"The Chaco Canyon civilization is remarkable! It is so full of math and science that it can be daunting not only to the student but to the teacher as well. When viewing the film I inform my students, 'you won't get it all at once. The science is too awesome!' The Study Guide puts 'awesome' into new perspective. It provides activities that lend themselves beautifully to an integrated approach to teaching." Pat Sandoval, Director of Alternative Learning Programs at the Santa Fe Indian School, New Mexico
"Modern science is just discovering the understandings and teachings of the ancestors, and that it is an affirmation of the great knowledge long held by the native people of this land. The interconnections and multidimensional concepts of time and space found in Chaco further evidence the complexity and sophistication of the Pueblo world." Penny Bird, Santo Domingo Pueblo, Assistant Secretary of Indian Education for New Mexico
"The Mystery of Chaco Canyon is an exciting addition to middle and high school curriculum. The easy-to-use Guide (addressing national standards in social studies, science, language arts, and geography) provides teachers with the knowledge and tools they need to open the amazing world of the ancient Pueblo people to their students. The complexity of these people's scientific knowledge revealed in Anna Sofaer's film will astound teachers and students alike." Lois Hirst, Coordinator and Professor, Educational Administration Programs, Northern Michigan University
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