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The Mysterious Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape attributed to the late Iron Age of Southeast Asia from 500 BC to AD 500, consisting of thousands of large stone jars placed on hills within the central plain of the Xiangkhoang Plateau in Laos.

According to local Lao legend, the jars were created by a race of giants after winning a great victory in battle. The giants used the jars to brew and store lau hai, loosely translated to mean ‘rice wine’ or ‘rice beer’.

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Up to 120 jar sites have been identified, each containing stone jars hewn from either sandstone, granite, conglomerate, limestone, or breccia at nearby quarries or from boulders extracted from riverbeds.

The cylindrical shaped jars have a lip rim to support a lid, and range from one to more than three metres in height, weighing up to 14 tons. Very few examples of stone lids have been recorded, suggesting that the jars were most likely capped with perishable material.

Image Credit: Jakub Hałun – CC BY-SA 4.0

The function of the jars is still debated, with some archaeologists suggesting that they were prehistoric mortuary vessels, evident by the discovery of human remains, burial goods and ceramics around the jars.

Another theory proposes that the jars were used as distilling vessels, where a body would be placed inside and left to decompose, which would then be removed to allow cremation or reburial of the skeletal remains.

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Image Credit: Jakub Hałun – CC BY-SA 4.0

In contemporary funerary practices followed by Thai, Cambodian, and Laotian royalty, the corpse of the deceased is placed into an urn during the early stages of the funeral rites, at which time the soul of deceased is believed to be undergoing gradual transformation from the earthly to the spiritual world. The ritual decomposition is later followed by cremation and secondary burial.

On 6 July 2019, the Plain of Jars was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Header Image Credit: Jakub Hałun – CC BY-SA 4.0

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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