The Plain of Jars

Scattered in the landscape of the Xieng Khouang plateau, Xieng Khouang, Lao PDR, are thousands of megalithic jars. The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos. These stone jars appear in clusters, ranging from a single or a few to several hundred jars at lower foothills surrounding the central plain and upland valleys. The jars are mostly undecorated, but some feature carved human figures or faces. There are circular stone discs near the jars, thought to be lids, and these, according to UNESCO, “are also sometimes carved with representations of humans, tigers or monkeys.” Similar creations exist elsewhere, including in a part of India 600 miles away, but it’s still unclear exactly which civilization made the ones in Laos. The jars' origins and purposes still puzzle. 

Plain of Jar in northern Laos

Lao stories and legends tell of a race of giants who inhabited the area ruled by a king called Khun Cheung, who fought a long, eventually victorious battle against his enemy. He allegedly created the jars to brew and store huge amounts of lau hai ("lau" means "alcohol", "hai" means "jar"—So "lau hai" means rice beer or rice wine in the jars) to celebrate his victory. Another local tradition states the jars were molded, using natural materials such as clay, sand, sugar, and animal products in a type of stone mix.

French archaeologist Madeleine Colani, visiting in the 1930s, established that most were crafted from sandstone (after all, they weigh up to a tonne each) and were probably used for ancient funeral ceremonies. Colani found a human-shaped bronzed figure carved into one urn and, nearby, a scattering of tiny stone beads, but the lack of organic materials inside the jars, notably bones, has compounded their enigma.


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