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The Plain of Jars leaves behind unsolved mystery

By Catholic Online
August 24th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Plain of Jars is a collection of large stone jars spread throughout the Xieng Khouang plain in the Lao Highlands. The stone structures are mostly made of sedimentary rock and, ranging from 3 to 10 feet in height, and each can weigh up to 14 tons.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The origin of the jars remains an unsolved mystery. Archaeologists believe that they were originally used between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. Some have theorized that the jars may have once served as funerals urns or food storage.

Laotian legend states that these jars were created by Khun Cheung, an ancient king of giants who lived in the highlands. It is said that Cheung, after winning a battle created the jars in order to brew huge amounts of celebratory lao lao rice wine.

The Plain of Jars received relatively little Western attention until the 1930s, when French archaeologist Madeleine Colani began surveying the area. Though previous reports of the jars had cited the existence of goods such as carnelian beads, jewelry, and axes, the site was mostly looted by the time Colani arrived.

Colani found a nearby cave housing human remains, which led her to believe that the jars were funeral urns for chieftains. Colani excavated the artifacts, some of which dated to between 500 BC and 800 AD, and published her findings in The Megaliths of Upper Laos.

Though the Xieng Khouang plain remains the central site of the jars, similar clusters can be connected to form a linear path all the way to northern India.

The existence of clusters in other parts of Asia also led to the belief that the jars were part of a large trade route. Some researchers believe the jars collected rainwater for travelers to use during dry season. Travelers would use the water and then leave behind prayer beads or offerings in the jars, explaining previous sightings of jewelry and assorted goods being left behind.

Though the caretakers for the Plain of Jars are applying for status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the area still remains highly dangerous. Thousands of unexploded bombs remain from the Secret War of the 1960s, and some of these arms still cause injuries to this day. As such, only Sites 1, 2, and 3 are open to visitors, while a number of organizations work to remove explosives and apply for more funding.

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