Monday, February 02, 2009

Fact in Fiction: The Sun Dagger on Fajada Butte

For those of you who enjoy finding interesting facts mixed into the fiction of a novel, you might like to know how Chaco Canyon and Pueblo Indian ancestors helped inspire my paranormal thriller STRUCK. I'll offer one instance as today's blog.

First, a clarification: My novels are not meant to inform or provide historical accuracy. I write paranormal fiction to entertain readers who want to leave the real world to enter the ones I create.

But there is fact in my fiction. A fascinating detail that needed no "bending" to fit into the fictional world of STRUCK is the sun dagger high up on Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon.

A thousand years ago, Ancestral Puebloans (often referred to as Anasazi) created the sun dagger. It was re-discovered in the late seventies, and it reveals the detailed knowledge this ancient civilization possessed regarding solar and lunar cycles.

There are two petroglyph spirals, a major one and a minor one, pecked into the rock on Fajada Butte. Three stone slabs allow slivers of sunlight to fall on the spirals and precisely mark seasons. On the summer solstice, a dagger of light bisects the main spiral. On the winter solstice, two sun daggers flank the outer spiral. On the equinoxes--spring and fall--a sun dagger bisects the minor spiral. Moonlight also passes between the pillars to mark lunar cycles, including an 18 1/2 year lunar cycle that I daresay many people today aren't aware of.

modified public domain sketch

In my thrillers, as in many thrillers, there's a "ticking clock," something that makes the characters (please pardon the upcoming cliché) race against time to save the day. In STRUCK, the ticking clock is an ancient sundial on Fajada Butte.

A sad fact not mentioned in the novel is that the interest in the sun dagger since its rediscovery resulted in much traffic up Fajada Butte. The traffic caused erosion and led to minor settling of the stone slabs. Minor settling was all it took to destroy the precision of this ancient and fascinating timepiece.

If interested, find out more here:


  1. I love bits of information like this, Keith. The problem is I am so easily distracted that I can spend hours reading history and never getting anything done.

    To solve that problem, I use a timer, set it for 1 hour, then get back to work as soon as it rings.

    Doesn't always work. lol.

    I gather there will be more tidbits like this? Kewl.

  2. I know what you mean, Joylene. I spent days and days in Chaco Canyon at ruins, hiking around, visiting "outlier" ruins, absorbing the atmosphere. Then I went back for more with a personal and highly informed tour guide. Then again. And that was just for the Chaco part.

    Hey, a fun part of life is learning, even if we get carried away with it.

  3. Fascinating stuff. In my novel, The Mound (forthcoming), I did a lot of research into early Native American cultures, in this case the mound builders of the Mississipian culture. I had so much great information that it was difficult to distill it down to only the most important facts.

  4. Yeah, Cullan. Research can become consuming. When a moment of clarity for my novel begins turning into a confusion of facts, I try to switch from research to writing.

    I'd have a harder time turning off the research impulse if I wrote historical fiction or at least worried more about making my fiction historically accurate. Instead, I concentrate on entertaining readers who don't mind leaving the world they live in to enter the ones I create.

    I think I'd be a mess trying to write historically accurate fiction. I'd strive to be too precise, and wading through conflicting reports would drive me to distraction.