Category Archives: LAOS

10-Foot-Tall Stone Jars ‘Made by Giants’ Stored Human Bodies in Ancient Laos

10-Foot-Tall Stone Jars ‘Made by Giants’ Stored Human Bodies in Ancient Laos

More than 100 giant stone jars, thought to have been used in burial rituals thousands of years ago, have been rediscovered at ancient sites in forests, on hillsides and along mountain ridges in remote central Laos.

The carved stone jars are scattered across miles of the rugged, tiger-haunted Xiangkhouang province, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Laos’ capital, Vientiane, in South Asia. They have been dubbed “jars of the dead” by researchers.

Several human burials, thought to be around 2,500 years old, have been found at some of these sites in Laos, but nothing is known about the people who originally made the jars.

An expedition of archaeologists from Laos and Australia visited the Xiangkhouang region in February and March this year to document known jar sites and to search for new jars-of-the-dead sites and stone quarries.

The new finds show that the mysterious culture that made the stone jars were geographically more widespread than previously thought, said Louise Shewan, an archaeologist at the University of Melbourne, and one of the expedition leaders.

The largest and best-known jar site is the famous Plain of Jars, located in a relatively open country near the town of Phonsavan. That site contains around 400 carved stone jars, some as tall as 10 feet (3 m) and weighing more than 10 tons (9,000 kilograms), and the first archaeological investigation of it was made in the 1930s.

The joint Australian and Laos archaeological expedition searched for new jar sites in the Xiangkhouang region and excavated a previously known jar site.

But Shewan said that the majority of the jar sites usually contained fewer than 60 carved stone jars, and were found in forested and mountainous terrain surrounding the Plain of Jars, spread over thousands of square miles.

Ancient Stone Jars

Shewan told Live Science that the search for new jar sites took the expedition into “extremely rugged, forested terrain,” as the researchers looked for ancient relics reported by local people.

Relying on local knowledge meant the archaeologists could avoid the ever-present danger of unexploded Vietnam War-era bombs, she said. U.S. warplanes dropped an estimated 270 million cluster bombs on Laos during the war.

The Laos government agency that oversees clearance efforts reports that more than 80 million unexploded bombs are scattered around the country.

Although the region is best known for the stone jars on the Plain of Jars, most of the ancient jar sites are in heavily forested and mountainous areas.

The latest expedition, in addition, to accurately mapping many of the reported sites in the Xiangkhouang region, found 15 new jar sites, containing a total of 137 ancient stone jars.

Shewan said that the newly discovered jars were similar to those found on the Plain of Jars, but some varied in the types of stone that they were made from, their shapes and the way the rims of the jars were formed.

Burial Rituals

Local legends include a story that the enormous stone jars were made by giants, who used the vessels to brew rice beer to celebrate a victory in war.

But archaeologists think that at least some of the carved stone jars were used to hold dead bodies for a time before their bones would be cleaned and buried. 

Although the remains of elaborate human burials have been found at some of the jar sites, archaeologists aren’t sure if the jars were made for the purpose of the burials or if the burials were performed later.

Excavations in 2016 revealed that some of the stone jars were surrounded by pits filled with human bones and by graves covered by large carved disks of stone. These appear to have been used to mark the grave locations.

Australian and Lao archaeologists found more than 137 ancient stone jars at 15 new sites in the remote and rugged Xiangkhouang region.

The latest expedition also found buried disks and other artifacts. Those included several beautifully carved stone disks, decorated on one side with concentric circles, human figures and animals. Curiously, the stone discs were always buried with the carved side face down.

“Decorative carving is relatively rare at the jar sites, and we don’t know why some disks have animal imagery and others have geometric designs,” expedition co-leader Dougald O’Reilly, an archaeologist at Australian National University in Canberra, said in a statement.

The excavations around some of the stone jars also revealed decorative ceramics, glass beads, iron tools, decorative disks that were worn in the ears and spindle whorls for cloth making.

Researchers also discovered several miniature clay jars that looked just like the giant stone jars and that were buried with the dead.

The scientists will now use the data and photographs from the new jar finds to reconstruct the sites in virtual reality at Monash University; then, archaeologists across the globe can use the VR to examine the sites in detail.

Two-ton, 1,000 year old stone ‘jars of the dead’ mystery deepens

Two-ton, 1,000 year old stone ‘jars of the dead’ mystery deepens

An ancient burial practice involving the use of massive stone jars seems to have been more widespread in Southeast Asia than once assumed, owing to a surprising trove of new discoveries in Laos.

A team of archaeologists co-led by Dougald O’Reilly from Australian National University, with help from Lao government officials, have discovered 15 new megalithic sites in Laos containing 137 previously unidentified stone jars that are thought to have been related, in some way, to disposal of the dead.

The sites, which date back 1,000 years, are located in a remote mountainous forest, expanding the geographical area in which these monuments are found in Laos.

“These new sites have really only been visited by the occasional tiger hunter,” said  Ph.D. student Nicholas Skopal, a co-leader of the team, in an  statement. “Now we’ve rediscovered them, we’re hoping to build a clear picture about this culture and how it disposed of its dead.”

A jar found in Laos.

These so-called ‘Jars of the Dead’ have been known since the 19th century, but French archeologist Madeleine Colani was the first to conduct a scientific investigation of the monuments, which she did in the 1930s.

Thousands of the megaliths have been found in the Plain of Jars, an area concentrated along the central plain of Xiangkhoang Plateau in northern Laos. The jars measure a few feet across and date back to Laos’ Iron Age (500 BCE to 500 CE). Colani, and the archaeologists who followed in her footsteps believe they were used during ancient burial practices, either to temporarily hold a deceased individual, or to serve as a secondary gravesite. Or possibly both.

These jars, and others like them in India and Indonesia, are suggestive of a complex set of burial practices involving various stages of decomposition, which ancient peoples may have associated with various spiritual or metaphysical phases of death.

But archaeologists have long puzzled over the exact purpose of the jars. To compound the problem, researchers don’t even know which culture built these megaliths.

“It’s apparent the jars, some weighing several tonnes, were carved in quarries, and somehow transported, often several kilometres to their present locations,” said O’Reilly in the statement. “But why these sites were chosen as the final resting place for the jars is still a mystery. On top of that we’ve got no evidence of occupation in this region.”

As noted, the distribution of the jars appears to be more widespread than previously assumed, which suggests whatever burial practice they were related to was also more common.

Also, some intricately carved discs were found positioned around the jars, possibly serving as burial markers, according to the researchers. The discs, which were placed face down for some unknown reason, were decorated with pommels, concentric circles, animal imagery and human figures.

According to O’Reilly, decorative carvings around these giant jars are quite rare. The researchers aren’t sure why some monuments were decorated and others were not, and why some had geometric designs as opposed to other imagery.

A disc decorated with concentric rings.

Intriguingly, the archaeologists also found miniature jars made of clay, which greatly resembled the larger jars.

O’Reilly said he’d “love to know why these people represented the same jars in which they placed their dead, in miniature to be buried with their dead.”

Other artifacts found near the jars included decorative ceramics, glass beads, iron tools, earrings, and spindle whorls for making cloth.