In the Xiang Khouang province of Laos, near the capital city of Phonsavan, a strange sight awaits travelers. This is the Plain of Jars, one of the few artifacts in the world that are still not satisfactorially explained by anthropologists. The story goes that the Western world was first made aware of the area in 1909 by a customs official, but before there could be a satisfactory anthropological survey of the area, the inhabitants of the area had plundered many of the relics, hindering later attempts to explain the site.

There are nearly two thousand stone jars in the area of varying sizes, ranging from 3 feet to over 7 (1 - 2.5 meters). They’re about three and a half feet in diameter, and weigh up to six tons. Scattered seemingly randomly at first glance, they’re the source of much debate and even more wild speculation.

When the Plain of Jars was first excavated and surveyed in the 1930s, it was thought that the jars dated back as far as 500 BC (this has been disputed with some success since; estimates range as far as 1000 AD). This work was done by the archaeologist Madeleine Colani of France, who theorized that they were probably relics of funerary ceremonies, citing other artifacts found at the site, including beads and necklaces. She thought that the urns had originally been the containers for the cremated remains of the creators of the jars. This was supported by the discovery of a cave with charred walls which could have been used as a crematorium. However, the evidence to support this is not nearly as strong as many would like, and there is still much debate over the “real” original purpose of the jars. A recent expedition in 1994 by the Japanese archaelogist Eiji Nitta provided the world with several jars containing actual human remains, but no charcoal or other evidence to support cremation.

Hindering current work is the fact that the area in which the jars are found was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war by American forces, to the point where the area is still full of unexploded bombs and mines, many still active. Although many have been defused, the areas not in close proximity to the jars have been neglected. Accidental detonation still kills over 100 people a year, and many of the jars have been destroyed by the original bombing.

The Plain of Jars is truly an awesome sight. I encourage you to search the Internet for photographs - there is little in the world to combat their weirdness and appeal.


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