The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos. Scattered in the landscape of the , Xieng Khouang, Laos, are thousands of megalithic jars. 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 Xieng Khouang Plateau is located at the northern end of the Annamese Cordillera, the principal mountain range of Indochina. Initial research of the Plain of Jars in the early 1930s claimed that the stone jars are associated with prehistoric burial practices. In 1998, Xieng Khouang Province, UNESCO and the Government of Lao PDR initiated a multi-year phased programme to safeguard and develop the Plain of Jars.
Excavation by Lao and Japanese archaeologists in the intervening years has supported this interpretation with the discovery of human remains, burial goods and ceramics around the stone jars. The Plain of Jars is dated to the Iron Age (500 BC to AD 500) and is one of the most important sites for studying Southeast Asian prehistory. More than 90 sites are known within the province of Xieng Khouang. Each site ranges from 1 up to 400 stone jars. The jars vary in height and diameter between 1 and 3 metres and are all without exception hewn out of rock. The shape is cylindrical with the bottom always wider than the top.
The majority of the jars are sandstone and have been manufactured with a degree of knowledge of what materials and techniques were suitable. It is assumed that Plain of Jars' people used iron chisels to manufacture the jars, although no conclusive evidence for this exists. Regional differences in jar shape have been noted. While the differences in most cases can be attributed to choice and manipulation of rock source, form differences, such as small apertures and apertures on both ends (double holed jars) which would affect the use of the jar, have been recorded in one district only.
Legends and local history — 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. This led the locals to believe the cave at Site 1 was actually a kiln, and that the huge jars were fired there and are not actually of stone.
Another suggested 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 foot paths. 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 an offering, accompanying prayers for rain. Or the beads might simply have been unassociated lost items. [source]
|Jar lid, Jar site 2, Plain of Jars, near Phonsavan, Laos. Image credit John McCabe|
|Jar site 2, Plain of Jars, near Phonsavan, Laos. Image credit John McCabe|
|Jar site 3, Plain of Jars, near Phonsavan, Laos, Image credit John McCabe|
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