The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos, comprises thousands of stone jars scattered around the upland valleys and the lower foothills of the central plain of the Xieng Khouang. The jars are frequently arranged in clusters ranging in number from one to several hundred. Various travelers that make it to this remote corner of Laos will find fields of ancient stone jars. Who put them there, and what were they for? Hence what purpose these stone jars served and who constructed them remains a mystery? So far 90 jar sites have been well recognized within the province of Xieng Khouang, and each site has from one to 400 stone jars. However, jars are varying in height and diameter amid 1m and 3m and are all hewn from rock. The Jar shape is alike cylindrical with the bottom always wider than the top. Unidentified to most traveler’s, thousands of stone urns dating back to the Iron Age (500 BC to AD 500) are peppered over hundreds of square kilometers in the mountains surrounding Phonsavan a lengthy detour from the typical transportation routes.
Due to jar size and the adjacent bones, some archaeologists believe the urns were prehistoric burial sites for an ancient civilization that travelled along an elapsed overland trade route among the Mekong River and the Gulf of Tonkin. The jars lie in clusters on the lower foot-slopes and mountain ridges of the hills surrounding the central plateau and upland valleys. Therefore, a number of quarry sites have been recorded, generally close to the jar sites. Five rock types have been identified: sandstone, conglomerate, granite, limestone and breccia. Others believe the urns were used as distilling vessels during the early stages of funeral rites. So, a body would be placed inside and left to decompose before being moved to a crematorium or secondary storage location and after the corpse had fully decayed, the remains would be returned to the urn and an additional fresh body would join it, repeating the same cycle.
This faith is well supported by the traditional Southeast Asian mortuary practices used for members of royalty. Moreover, Thai royals historically had their bodies cremated several months after their death, with their body remains being moved from urn to urn until the final day of incineration, in the faith that the soul moves through a slow transformation, exiting the earth and entering the mystical world. Furthermore, the rims on to each jar are believed to have reinforced lids that would be placed on top until the body decomposed, adding credit to this theory. However, the local’s inhabitants, on the other hand, have more thrilling philosophies. Various local says the stone vessels were shaped to brew powerful rice wine to rejoice the victory of a band of mythological giants over their enemies; while the others say the jars held whisky for a thirsty hulk that lived in the mountains above Phonsavan. However, on the other side the truth is, no one knows the secret behind this ancient mystery.
In the early 1930s a French investigator concluded that the jars were related with prehistoric burial practices, well 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. The Plain of Jars is dated to the Iron Age and is one of the most significant prehistoric sites in Southeast Asia. Since most of the jars have lip rims, it is thought that the jars originally supported lids, although few stone lids have been recorded; this may propose that the bulk of lids were fashioned from unpreserved materials. Stone lids with animal carvings have been found at few sites such as Ban Phakeo.
The bas-relief carvings are supposed to portray monkeys, tigers and frog, though no in situ lid has ever been found. Walking through the fields, you can spot dozens of red and white markers placed prudently on the ground signs of a far more disturbing secret amid the mystery. Thus, “Phonsavan” was located on a flight path for United States fighter jets during the Vietnam War and became the unauthorized dumping ground for 270 million cluster bombs, manufacture it the world’s most heavily bombed place per capita. More than 80 million of these bombs failed to detonate upon landing, treacherously polluting the area and creating much of the land surrounding the Plain of Jars unusable.
Well, tourists to the site must stay close to the marked, cleared zones, because answers to the mystery were long gone; only spider webs and still water remained. Time and war may have removed any chance we have of understanding who built these marvels and why. The Lao PDR government and “NZAID” built a visitors center that was opened on 13 August 2013 at the Plain of Jars Site 1 and it is at the bottom of a hill 200m before a car park. The center provides English language information panels on the history of the Plain of Jars culture, as well as its modern history during the 1964 to 1975 conflict. Moreover, Lao PDR government is considering applying for status as a UNESCO World Heritage site for the Plain of Jars.