Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Plain of Jars, Laos

One strangest archaeological sites in the world is the "Plain of Jars," which actually consists of about a hundred separate sites scattered across several miles of hilly country in Laos. Each site contains one to 400 large stone jars, more than 3,000 in all. The jars are up to 10 feet (3 m) tall and weigh several tons. They are made of several types of stone, but a majority are sandstone. The jars seem to have been quarried near where they lie.

The jars seem to be Iron Age burial places, dating to between 500 BC and AD 200. Human remains have been found both in the jars and in graves around them. Little in the way of grave goods has been found, and it seems that all of the burials were looted long ago. The jars seem made to have lids, but only a couple of stone lids have been found, so they may have lids made of wood or some other perishable material. One theory about the jars is that they were used to hold the remains of important people during their transition period into death, lasting a year or so, after which the fully lifeless corpses were buried in the ground.

The Plain of Jars is in the news lately because Laos is looking into UNESCO World Heritage Site status for the assemblage. A new survey is underway, but the archaeologists must be accompanied by mine clearance crews to remove all the unexploded ordnance that clutters the site.

Hmong children on one of the jars. There are many legends about them, of which my favorite is that they were used by a race of giants to store their rice wine.

No comments: