The mystery of the megalithic stone jars in Laos

The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos. Scattered in the landscape of the Xieng Khouang plateau, 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. Several theories propose that the jars were used as funerary urns, while local legend suggests they were drinking vessels for the giants who used to inhabit the area. We’re sure there’s a sensible, perhaps even logical, explanation to the Plain of Jars… we just don’t want to know what it is.

The mystery of the stone jars in Eastern Laos

Hundreds of large stone jars lie scattered across an elevated plateau of rolling grassland, to the south and west of Phonsavan in Laos. The origin and purpose of these huge, mysterious jars is unclear, but it is generally accepted that most date back at least 2000 years. They range between one and three metres long, and each weigh several tons.

Laos legend tells us that the jars were created by a race of giants, whose king needed somewhere to store his rice wine. Others believe that they were placed there to collect monsoon rainwater.

Initial research of the Plain of Jars in the early 1930s claimed that the stone jars are associated with prehistoric burial practices. 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 BCE to 500 CE) and is one of the most fascinating and important sites for studying Southeast Asian prehistory. The Plain of Jars has the potential to shed light on the relationship between increasingly complex societies and megalithic structures and provide insight into social organization of Iron Age Southeast Asia’s communities. To visit the jar sites one would typically stay in Phonsavan.

From the fact that most of the jars have lip rims, it is presumed that all stone jars supported lids, although few stone lids have been recorded; this may suggest that the bulk of lids were fashioned from perishable materials. Stone lids with animal representations have been noticed at few sites such as Ban Phakeo (Site 52). The bas-relief animals are thought to be monkeys, tigers and frogs. No in situ lid has ever been found.

Not to be confused with stone lids are the stone discs. The stone discs have at least one flat side and are grave markers which were placed on the surface to cover or mark a burial pit. These gravemarkers appear more infrequently than stone jars, but are found in close proximity. Similar are stone gravemarkers; these stones are unworked, but have been placed intentionally to mark a grave.

The jars lie in clusters on the lower footslopes and mountain ridges of the hills surrounding the central plateau and upland valleys. Several quarry sites have been recorded usually close to the jar sites. Five rock types are known:sandstone, granite, conglomerate, limestone and breccia.

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 these 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.

The cave at Site 1 is a natural limestone cave with an opening to the northwest and two man-made holes at the top of the cave. These holes are interpreted as chimneys of the crematorium. French geologist and amateur archaeologist Madeleine Colani excavated inside the cave in the early 1930 and found archaeological material to support a centralized crematorium theory. Colani also recorded and excavated at twelve Plain of Jars sites and published two volumes with her findings in 1935.

The material findings and context led her to the interpretation of the Plain of Jars as an Iron Age burial site.

Image Source >>

Plain of Jars – Site One

Girls climbing on one of the jars at Site 1

 Source: Wikipedia




  1. says

    You might be interested.

    Secret megaliths

    It is slightly disappointing that even in the 21st century in our era, when mankind has unveiled most principles that govern both micro and macro-space, we still do not know what was – here on Earth – the real reason of building tens of thousands of rocking stones, menhirs, mounds and other types of megalithic structures.
    Millions of scientists from the whole world have been trying to unsolved the mystery what was the reason – and mainly – in what way did our ancestors transport stones that had tens, often even hundreds of tons of weight. The heaviest blocks of stones in our history that have been mined, surfaced and transported are Baalbek Trilithons. They weigh 800 tons and formed a nickname under Jupiter’s temple in Baalbek.
    Jupiter’s temple was built 2000 years ago. Archeological research has however shown that the underpinning with inbuilt gigantic trilithons is much more moldered and hence much older than the ruins of Jupiter’s temple. Who were those that could manipulate with the gigantic stone blocks when even we marvel at their size and weight?
    The scientific literature still states that the transport of these unbelievably heave megaliths was done only by using human force and ropes. This “cheap explanation” satisfies the general scientific community only because even the most respected scientists cannot explain this problem in any more realistic way. It is our natural human reaction that when we cannot find a solution of some problem in our history, we rather go to hypotheses and conclusions that we believe are not correct, they however enable us to avoid a frustrating answer that we do not even know the correct answer at present.
    The mining of trilithons could have been done only in a way that there was a square drawn on a flat surface of the rock. Then the rock around its circumference must have been taken away to free the surfaces around its perimeter. After this, 5 of the squares of the block were optically visible and the remaining thing to do was detach the bottom part of the block from the rock below. This piece of work was somehow performed thousands of years ago. However, even today’s stone industry would not be able to perform this. It’s not even realistically possible to explain how was the almost thousand tons in weight block of stone transported out of the mine to the surrounding terrain and then how it was transported almost 2km away and then lifted again and finally placed into the base of the terrace walls.
    It is necessary to realize that 800 tons is the same weight as that of twenty 40-tonne tanks or 800 cars or 10 locomotives. Therefore, if someone keeps saying that the manipulation with 800tons block of stone was realized only by the use of human force and ropes, then he unfortunately compromises himself by saying what is unrealistic in the same way as those that believe such statements.
    If some asked any major transport company to perform a transport of a block weighing more than 800 tons, every company in the world would refuse such order, because they would not be able to perform such a task. And if anyone asked the building company to perform such a task only by the use of human force, the company would probably not even respond as the employees would very likely think that they communicate with someone who is not totally healthy regarding his mentality.
    However, anyone brave enough to state at present that these cultures were able to influence gravity or other laws of nature still unknown to us will at present be in a similar situation.
    But there is another secret hidden in the thousand tons block of stone. Why did the ancient constructers not split the block into more pieces of smaller size? It would have been easier to manipulate smaller blocks. Could it have been that the ancient constructors wanted to avoid some kind of vibration?
    The most probable explanation of the unanswered questions could probably by related to the perfect alignment of other megalithic structures where it is not possible to even slide a piece of paper between the stones. This however directs us to many other unknown connections and it is not possible to use the knowledge of our present time.
    At some scientists may find a certain clue to answer the question to the answer why some megalithic structures were built.

    Miroslav Provod

  2. says

    Why is it so difficult for people to realise that they are Jars for storage of food grains and water holders caped with a timber cover. Imagine that they were surrounded by homes that were made from wood and straw. The only thing that would be remaining is these stone Jars.
    And by the way, they were made more then 4200 years ago.


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