Plain of Jars

No, this is not about whiskey in the jars or a storage of marmalade. The Plain of Jars is the name for a landscape in Laos where thousands of stone jars are scattered around. The jars are mostly arranged in clusters ranging in number from one to several hundred.

The nearest town is Phonsavan, and we got there by bus from Luang Prabang. The trip took a solid seven hours, thru a landscape of cliffs and sharp curves. The plains were heavily bombed during the Vietnam war,a war that very much filtered into Laos. Only a handful of the 90 jar-sites are cleared of explosives and open for tourists.20_02_IMG_7372.jpg

The jars vary from half a meter high to almost three, from a few hundred kilos to 6 tons. Their shape is cylindrical with the bottom wider than the top, and they are undecorated. They are carved from a single piece of rock, carved with primitive tools two thousand years ago. An incredible piece of work, no less! How they were transported is easier to understand, knowing the Lao tradition for using elephants to do heavy labor.20_03_IMG_7352.jpg

A French researcher in the 1930s concluded that the jars were 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 jars. This is only considered a theory, but nobody has come up with anything better. There are no inscriptions to be found, like on the Maya stelaes of Central America for instance. Therefore, all scientists can do is interpret what they find, they cannot read and be certain.

The Plain of Jars is dated to the Iron Age (500 BC to AD 500) and is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Southeast Asia. The three sites we visited were beautiful park-like areas on little hilltops, like where other cultures would build their churches and put their cemeteries. They fill you with respect for people who put an incredible amount of work into what for them obviously would have been very important. For us it would be important to know exactly why and when and how, but maybe we will never get that far!


One thought on “Plain of Jars

  1. Hi there, it’s always very interesting to read your blog. The photos are absolutely terrific. I wish you a good and safe journey. ‘Almost Spring’ greetings from Switzerland


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