Aussie Archaeologists Unearth Ancient Burial Ground

The discovery could solve a decades-long mystery.

For decades, the stone jars scattered along the foothills of Laos have puzzled archaeologists. 

Now, a discovery by experts from the Australian National University may finally reveal the secrets of these strange vessels.

The team, led by Dr Dougald O’Reilly, has found human remains estimated to be 2,500 years old in Laos' central Xieng Khouang province.

“This will be the first major effort since the 1930s to attempt to understand the purpose of the jars and who created them,” Dr O’Reilly said.

Until now, there has never been a single explanation for the hundreds of Jars weighing up to 6 tonnes strewn across the landscape in Laos.

Plain of Jars in Laos

Local myth says an ancient king created them to brew and store huge amounts of rice wine to celebrate a victory. Others, like Dr O’Reilly, think they were used to store the remains of the dead.

“One theory is that they were used to decompose the bodies. Later, after the flesh was removed, the remains may have been buried around the jars.

“What is now clear is that these are mortuary and were used for the disposal of the dead. The jars can number between one and 400 at each site, ranging in size from one metre to three metres tall.

Some areas of the Plain of Jars are dangerous to explore due to UXO’s (unexploded bombs) from the Secret War in Asia these bombs are still killing and maiming adults and children who collect them for the scrap metal over 30 years later.

Plain of Jars sites.

Despite the dangers, Dr O’Reilly and his team have been able to reveal, for the first time, a primary burial site where ones were placed in ceramic vessels.

“There are pits full of bones with a large limestone block placed over them and other burials where bones have been placed in ceramic vessels,” he said.

The latest excavations were conducted in February 2016as part of a five-year Australian Research Council Discovery Project.

The Laos government is pushing for the Plain Of Jars area to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a move that would bring significant tourism and recognition to the region.

[Images courtesy of ANU]

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