Right in the center of the southeast Asian country of Laos is a peculiar megalithic structure. It is here, in the middle of the region’s only landlocked country, a country known for its jungles, that archaeologists have found open plains. These plains are littered with ancient jars and is known as the Plain of Jars. Adding to the puzzling discovery is that nobody really has any idea what they were for.
The Plain of Jars is considered one of the most prominent prehistoric sites in all of southeast Asia. The Plain of Jars dates between 500 BC and AD 500, so for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to talk about this plain and its jars as though it were created in the year 1. Because how often can you talk about year 1? Way back then, the ancient Lao people crafted hundreds upon hundreds of these stone jars.
Archaeologists are relatively sure that the jars have all been carved from stone, as opposed to created in a kiln. The primary theory is that people must have used iron chisels to chip down the sandstone. There’s only one problem, which is that nobody has ever found any evidence of this. There are over 90 sites with these jars. Each site contains anywhere between one and 400 jars—an exceptional commitment to storage.
But Why Have a Plain of Jars?
As you might expect, over time, the contents of these jars have gone missing. There is no explanation for them, but many people must have been involved in their creation. Ninety-plus sites have been discovered, variations in the size and shape of the jars have been noted. The smallest jars are coming in about one meter tall, and the largest at over three meters. Every jar, though, is cylindrical and is wider at the base than at the top.
The Lao people have ancient legends that speak of giants. The giants were ruled by the legendary king Khun Cheung. The giants helped the Lao people defeat their enemies, and the jars were scattered about the countryside and filled with whiskey and rice wine as offerings to the giants. Another theory, dating back decades with the locals, is that the jars were placed there by their ancestors to assist travelers. The idea is that the heavy monsoon rains would fill the jars dotting the landscape. The Plain of Jars would offer weary travelers a refreshing drink, presuming they could boil the water, of course.
The Plain of Jars Not So Easy To Study
As a result of the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more bombs over the Plain of Jars than the entirety of all missiles dropped in World War II. It is estimated that 280 million bombs were dropped, with 80 million never detonating. The undetonated bombs pose a constant risk in the exploration and study of the Plain of Jars.
However, there are ongoing international efforts to remove or disarm the remaining weapons. This has allowed for several sites to be properly excavated. Today the Laos government has invested in the sections for tourism purposes. You can head on out to the Plain of Jars today and learn about their history, you know, that dates back to year one.
They even have English-language plaques. Plaques!