Xieng Khuang, the Plain of Jars

A mystery in South-East Asia that might be soon explained...

Located in the north-eastern part of Laos, the Plain of Jars is a region well known for the large number of sites where hundreds of jars can be seen. Their presence and their usefulness remain to be elucidated.

Xieng Khuang province was also the scene of intense bombing during the secret war that has lasted more than 10 years and has not only left visible legacy with irreparable damages, but still causes deaths and injuries each year (around 1 per day).

Because of this history, some villages have been converted into the recycling of metals left by intense bombing, such as the village of Na Pia ("the spoon village"), making spoons with some warheads aluminum.

From Wikipedia:

More than 90 jar sites have been identified within Xieng Khuang Province. Each site has from one to 400 stone jars. The jars vary in height and diameter between 1m and 3m and are all hewn from rock. Their shape is cylindrical with the bottom always wider than the top. The stone jars are undecorated, with the exception of a single jar at Site 1. This jar has a human "frogman" bas-relief carved on the exterior. Parallels between the "frogman" and the rock painting at Huashan in Guangxi, China have been drawn. The Chinese paintings, which depict large full-frontal images of humans with arms raised and knees bent, are dated to 500 BC–200 AD.

Variations in the practices of cremation inside jars and secondary burial outside jars, as noted by Colani, have proven difficult to explain. The cremated remains seem to mainly belong to adolescents. While the bomb clearance operations did not involve emptying of jars and thus no additional evidence could be gathered, Van Den Bergh claimed that the stone jars initially may have been used to distil the dead bodies and that the cremated remains within the jars represent the most recent phase in Plain of Jars. The jars with smaller apertures may reflect the diminishing need to place an entire body inside.

The suggestion that the jars, in a similar fashion to traditional Southeast Asian Royal mortuary practices, functioned as ’distilling vessels’, was put forward by R. Engelhardt and P. Rogers in 2001. 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.

For more information about the scientific survey in Plain of Jars, we might be interested by this content: The history blog.

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