The Mystery of The Plains of Jars

Situated in the remote north east of Laos, more than 2,000 large ancient stone jars are spread across a plateau in the Xiengkhouang province of central Laos. Some stand 10 feet tall and weigh several tons. Archaeologists and historians are still baffled as to where the jars came from, and what they used for. Though archaeologists believe that they were originally used between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. 

The Plains of Jars consists of thousands of stone jars scattered around the upland valleys and the lower foothills of the central plain of the Xiangkhoang Plateau. The jars are arranged in clusters ranging in number from one to several hundred.

Image Credit: The Active Times

There are 3 key sites to see the Jars, three places where they are clustered together en masse, but there are apparently over 400 locations where they are to be found scattered across the plain. Since most of the jars have lip rims, it is thought that the jars originally supported lids, although few stone lids have been recorded; this suggests that the bulk of lids were fashioned from perishable materials. Stone lids with animal carvings have been found at a few sites such as Ban Phakeo (Site 52). The bas-relief carvings are thought to depict monkeys, tigers and frogs.

According to local legend, the jars were created by Khun Cheung, an ancient king of giants who lived in the highlands. It is said that Cheung, after fighting a long and victorious battle, created the jars in order to brew huge amounts of celebratory lao lao rice wine. However, the current accepted theory is that they were created by an iron age megalithic civilisation, about which little is known. This makes the jars one of the most important prehistoric archaeological sites in the world. Even the smallest jars weigh several tonnes and none are made from local stone.

Image credit: Travel Happy

Another explanation for the jars' use is to collect monsoon rainwater for caravan travelers along their journey at times when rain may have been seasonal and water was not readily available on the easiest footpaths. Rainwater would then be boiled, even if stagnant, to become potable again, a practice long understood in Eastern Eurasia. The trade caravans that camped around these jars could have placed beads inside them as offerings, accompanying prayers for rain. Or the beads might simply have been unassociated lost items.

Though the caretakers for the Plain of Jars are applying for status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the area still remains one of the most dangerous archaeological sites in the world. Thousands of unexploded bombs remain from the Secret War of the 1960s, and some of these arms still cause injuries to this day.


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