Strangeness of Chaco Canyon

The most isolated and easternmost Chacoan ruin is Wijiji. Nearby, on the upper reaches of the canyon wall, rests a white-painted symbol strikingly similar to symbols found at the Zuni sun-watching station. The symbols feature rays pointing outwards in four directions. From a spot on the ledge near the apparent sun symbol of Wijiji, the winter solstice sunrise emerges from behind the top of a pillar, a clear expression of the sun’s southernmost point in the sky. Another possible Chacoan sky watching station may be the unusual corner windows in Pueblo Bonito. Two of them face the southeast, and the one in Room 228 could have been used to observe the arrival of the solstice.

The Great Kiva Casa Rinconada could have contained multiple solar and lunar marking mechanisms, with its upper portion extending above ground level, unusual for Chaco kivas. There are two rows of equally spaced, rectangular niches around the interior. East of the northern entrance to the kiva is a small window that permits light to enter. One niche is dramatically, and near-perfectly illuminated on the morning of the summer solstice, about a half hour after sunrise. This may be coincidence, we can never know for sure. Despite all of this, a major problem with any interpretation of Casa Rinconada is the massive restoration projects that have been undertaken, which means that the stones may not be in the same positions that they were during Chacoan times.

With volcanoes as an example, the forces of nature can be uncontrolled and possibly devastating to a civilization so closely tied to the earth as the Chacoans were. The predictability of the sun and moon, combined with the residents’ ability to closely track the cycles and seasons that followed, may have given the people a sense of control that they would have struggled to attain in other parts of their lives.

Supernovas and Strange Skies

During the Chaco phenomenon, there have been several strange astronomical events documented. We can never know how they were interpreted, what changes they may have caused in society, or if they were viewed with awe and appreciation or abject fear. However, for people so connected with the cycles of sun and moon, we are certain they would not have been ignored. The interpretation, though, is something that will always be a curiosity that can never be satisfied.

Here is the chronology of the known strange astronomical events that would have been seen by the Chacoans:

  • History records that on December 22, 968 there was a total solar eclipse near the winter solstice.
  • Halley’s Comet made an appearance in 989, and then again in 1066.
  • On April 30, 1006, the brightest supernova in recorded history appeared. This star remained low on the southern horizon for almost 3 months. It was bright enough to cast a shadow from its light.