The Mysterious Ancient “Plain of Jars” of Laos

plain of jars 1There are ancient mystery sites all over the world.  Easter Island, Peru, Egypt and even that silly little circle of rocks in the southwest of England have all brought armies of archeologists, historians, and mystics to ponder their existence.  How many people know about the mystical and mysterious Plain of Jars in Laos The Plain of Jars consists of thousands of huge megalithic jars chiseled out of solid rock that date back to the Iron Age.  They are not made from ceramic or other modern method.  Each jar measures from 1 meter to 3 meters across.  Best guesses at this point of their age is about 3,000 years. plain of jars 2The Plain of Jars is located near the small Lao city of Phonsavan in the middle of the country, north of Vientine and south of Luang Prabang.  Actually, the drive from the two major cities itself is quite amazing going through small remote interesting Lao villages. From Luang Prabang the road winds through the mountains and takes about 7 hours.  There are mini vans that can accommodate travelers that can be hired in travel agencies in Luang Prabang.  A knowledgeable tour guide is also very valuable to get the most of this experience which can be easily hired in Phonsavan or Luang Prabang.   A bit slower, but very interesting, would be a motorcycle trip from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan, stopping often along the way in small remote villages in the mountains.  Visiting the Plain of Jars would be considered an adventurous trip, certainly a little on the gritty and gutsy side, so  not a trip for everyone. All of the ancient jars have a lip rims, as to support a lid, but there are almost no lids that have been found, which has led to speculation that the lids were primarily made of a perishable material that disintegrated over the ages, like perhaps wood.  There have been just a very few stone lids found over the vast area of the Plain.  There are roughly 90 sites for these jars on the plateau at the edge of the main mountains in Laos, and each site has from 1 to 400 jars. Although no tools have been found, it is assumed that the sandstone jars required iron tools to chisel out these amazing artifacts.  But who knows?  There is speculation that other ancient sites in remote parts of the world were the handiwork of an advanced civilization, with some speculation that they were completed by people from another world.  Travelers from India, one of the most advanced civilizations at the time, maybe came to this area.  There is much more to learn from the Plain of Jars in Laos.  For certain, the people back in the era when these jars were carved out of stone had knowledge of what materials were suitable from the near distant mountains and techniques for making these monster sized jars. The favored explanation for their use is currently as receptacles for cremated human remains.  This is from the leading archeological expedition to the area that was done by a French scientist back in the 1930′s. There is certainly evidence of ancient cremated human remains near the jars (but mysteriously, not in the jars.  There is no organic material — bones or anything else — that were found inside the jars).   Legends, however, tell of a different story rather than for burial of remains. Old Lao legend has it that the area was once inhabited by giants (aliens perhaps?) and they constructed the large jars in order to brew and store large quantities of “lau hai”, a concoction of rice wine or rice beer that they used to celebrate their war victories.  Apparently, if true, there must have been a lot of victories and a lot of alcohol consumption. Another historical or legendary explanation was that the jars were used to collect rainwater.  Caravans from China and India passed through this area, and during the dry season there was a good market for stored water. (It gets extremely dry in this area during parts of the year).  Inside many of the jars were found many beads similar to what caravans carried to the Western markets from China, with no other reasonable explanation being offered.  Certainly they would be unlikely to toss a lot of beads into jars that held cremated remains of the locals, but perhaps they could have been offerings made to the source for much needed water. Photos of Plain of Jars, Laos This photo of Plain of Jars is courtesy of TripAdvisor Unfortunately, the Plain of Jars are located also in the area where Dick Nixon and Henry Kissinger decided to have a secret war (unknown to the American people at the time)  in the early 1970’s where they dropped thousands of tons of bombs from high flying B-52s.  There are scads of bomb craters all over the area and still unexploded ordnance laying around that occasionally kill or maim the local people (Nixon’s legacy).  (I highly recommend checking out the website for an American groups working to correct this situation called the “Legacies of War”).  These unexploded bombs have made thorough scientific studies into these artifacts difficult.  About 30 per cent of the bombs America dropped on Laos failed to explode on impact. Understand that Nixon and Kissinger and their co-conspirators directed over 580,000 bombing missions over Laos (whom the US was never publicly at war with) making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.  More ordinances were showered on Laos than what the US dropped on Japan and Germany combined during World War II ! They bombed to help support the Royal Lao government against the Pathet Lao, and despite the huge military advantages of the US, the Pathet Lao were successful over America (another place Americans should remember as they go off to war against other small but determined countries today).  America lost this secret war despite it costing many thousands of Laotian lives and billions of US dollars. Understand that many irreplaceable ancient jars were destroyed by the unsuccessful mass bombing by America at this time.  If America had bombed the Egyptian pyramids, would it have been simply forgotten and glossed over like the results in Laos? (Why hasn’t Kissinger been charged with War Crimes?). The Plain of Jars is a nominated site in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but cannot qualify while there is still so much unexploded ordinance scattered around the area.  The Lao government and NGO groups are working hard to correct the situation.  In my opinion, it would be better for the US military to put resources in correcting their horrible mistake rather than flying very expensive drone weaponry into small Middle Eastern towns chasing “terrorists” and killing innocents.  Apparently, that is not what the American people demand of their leadership, however, and that change in policy isn’t being made. Some resourceful Lao people have been collecting the aluminum and steel from exploded and unexploded American bombs and making eating utensils from them.  It makes a nice souvenir to pick up some spoons made from bombs. Check out the Plain of Jars website.

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9 thoughts on “The Mysterious Ancient “Plain of Jars” of Laos

  1. Thanks that was very interesting
    I am surprised I had never heard of that before
    (The jars I mean ) Interesting to wonder what they could have been
    intended for.

    I have heard of the bombing & the unexploded ordinance.
    Very sad indeed & like you asked why have the perpetrators that
    still live never been prosecuted?

  2. Fascinating. For some reason I thought of cooking as their use when I started reading. In a dry time, you would not want to start fires for cooking casually. The fire could spread out of control very easily and not stop until it ran out of fuel. Especially if there’s wind. But if you had your fire inside a stone jar, there’s nowhere for it to go. So of course you had to have a lot of these made, because a big tribe with many families certainly couldn’t eat from the same jar.

  3. Good article, thanks. I have wanted to visit the jars for some time, but it is a trek. May I suggest that buying souvenirs made from bomb scrap would encourage villagers to go out scavenging for the dangerous things.

  4. I wonder if there has been any scientific diggings in some of these areas to see if they can find any historical complementary artifacts? It is amazing the technology available today to analyze ancient artifacts, I would think with the proper magnification of the surface of the jars they could determine what type of tool(s) was/were used to construct the jars also a lot can be learned from analyzing the hardness of the material the stones are constructed out of. The uncovering of history and the methods used to do it are fascinating.
    By the time they convicted Kissinger of war crimes he’d be dead, they should go after the guy currently in office committing war crimes. Why wait until he can bomb more people? Catch him in the act now before he can kill others!

  5. I like the information about the Jars. However, you can leave your political views, cynicism and hatred of the United States out of the content. Really makes you look small and petty. Get over it.
    Thank you

    • Thanks for your comment. Hard to get over the atrocities that were committed on Laos many decades ago that affect Lao children of today. If you visit the area in Southern Laos where are still suffering from this secret war, it is hard not to be saddened. It is also sad that you consider that “petty”.

  6. Pingback: Nerdy Finance #23: “Spring Has Sprung!” Edition

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