An Easy Road to Laos - 3 Plain of Jars

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by Jurgen, Oct 30, 2010.

  1. Jurgen

    Jurgen Moderator

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    #1 Jurgen, Oct 30, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 23, 2016
    Excerpt: “Plain of Jars” is filled with secrets and mysteries. It is also a great biking place with a good access road and scenic itineraries. The archaeological sites are testimonials of the past whilst scars in the landscape are reminiscent of more recent war turmoils.

    Third part of a Laos trip report (1).
    Plain of Jars loop

    See also:

    Part 1 - Crossing the border :
    An Easy Road to Laos - 1 Crosing the border

    Part 2 – The Road to Luang-Prabang :
    An Easy Road to Laos - 2 The Road to Luang Prabang

    Part 4 - Back to Nong Khai
    An Easy Road to Laos - 4. Back to Nong Khai

    The complete photo story can be found at :
    http://picasaweb.google.com/campusadvis ... ainOfJars#

    Arrival of route 7 to Phonsavan and site jars 1

    Phonsavan.

    Other maps see post hereafter (5)

    Route 7 to the Plain of Jars

    A couple of books, and my interest for Laos, had put “Plain of Jars” on my mind since several years. The region of Xieng Khouang is filled with interrogations, from mysterious archaeological treasures to the modern secrets of a forgotten war.

    After leaving Phou Khoun intersection, I was happily climbing route 7 toward Phonsavan. The 130 kilometer journey rolls on an agreeable pavement, following the undulations of green hills adorned with dark cliffs and covered with low sized vegetation. This road is in better condition than the previous sector on route 13 and mostly less winding.

    At noon, joyous children stroll back from school and the village life is particularly animated. There are plenty of opportunities to stop, make contacts with locals, and take pictures. As I was not sure about the weather conditions, I kept this open for the return trip.

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    I had already passed Muang Souy (Nong Tang) when I first became aware of a bomb crater. I was amazed by buffaloes immersed in an “airborne bathtub”. This was just a beginning, as landscapes in the region are often cluttered with holes like a Swiss cheese.

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    Phonsavan (Xieng Khouang)

    In Ponsavan I checked in to “Nice Guest House” were rooms have TV (international chains), bathtubs with hot water and were motorcycles are kept in a closed parking, all for 400 Bath per night.

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    Phonsavan is a new settlement, sometimes still called Xieng Khouang, the name of the former provincial capital. That city is located about thirty kilometers East, and now called Mouang Khoune. It has been totally erased during the war, as related in the book “The Ravens” (2):

    “An air campaign against Xieng Khouang followed. … In the town some fifteen hundred buildings were flattened, and as many as two thousand more all over the Plain of Jars … By the end of the year there would not be a building left standing.”

    My sojorn in the theater of recent enmities and ruthless destructions did not leave me indifferent. I can not stay aloof when testimonials of the disaster are everywhere. Once political interests and susceptibilities have cooled down, historians will probe the facts and try to explain. But a first step is to declassify the Second Indochina War and accept that more than two million tons of bombs were seeded on Laos. As estimated, till thirty percent might not have emptied their deadly charges. Year after year, the UXO (unexploded ordnances) still kill people.

    My first visit in Phonsavan was for the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) office (3). This agency has done a remarkable work in clearing UXO and they have a small exhibition in their premises. The local employee advised me to visit his home, the “shell village” where free airborne crap was imaginatively integrated into constructions. I did not drive the loop to his hometown that time, but appreciated the equanimity of people who never expressed any resentment against “Falangs”.

    In the late afternoon, only scattered cumulus punctuated the horizon. It was time to climb a hill and peek over the city, whilst waiting for the twilight to bid farewell to a delightful day.

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    There are few places to hang out in Phongsavan and “Crater Bar” provided the food and drinks needed for a happy ending, before the short walk back to Nice Guesthouse.

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    A cloudy sky and scattered rain, not heavy enough to keep the road wet, greeted the dawn. Outside the tourist season Phonsavan is a sleepy town. I strolled around empty streets waiting for “Crater Bar” to open. Then I delighted in my hamburger breakfast and studied the GTR map, whilst watching the quiet and colorful monk's procession.

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    The Jars Sites

    My menu that day was a visit to the three main “Plain of Jars” sites. I recalled the description of the place in the book “The Raven”(2):

    “The gloves were off and a vicious no-quarter war was about to begin. And the battlefield was to be the Plain of Jars. The Plaine des Jarres, as the French named it, is a beautiful plateau forty miles wide, lying at an altitude of more than three thousand feet, covered with grass and small hills, … The great stone jars which gave the plain its name are thought to be the funeral urns of another culture ...They appear to be over thousand years old, … And extraordinarily, despite the hail of bombs unleashed upon the plain, no jar was ever damaged throughout the war.”

    I traveled on route 10 to “site 1”, the nearest archaeological location, about fifteen kilometers from Phonsavan. The morning was grey and fresh and eventually drops began to hit my helmet's shield. As I was not wrapped to stand a downpour, I stopped at a tiny empty shelter. I did not remain lonely for long, a cohort of kids rushed to my place, as much out of curiosity as to find a temporary refuge. Communication was limited but giggles, laugher and small talks nicely filled the waiting time.

    At the site's entrance, a large panel exhorts visitors to stay inside MAG white markers. I wondered how serious the menace was, in the immediate vicinity, but the warning adds spice to the place. Nobody wants to be sorry.

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    The overview of the field, the scattered stone bottles and the bomb craters were awe-inspiring. A close up contact is even more puzzling. Who were the people who trailed these huge recipients from remote quarries and for what purpose did they do it? At that moment I was the only tourist in this impressive site so that loneliness and quietude added to the mystery feelings exuded from the place.

    This is how Mervyn Brown, a former British Deputy Ambassador, summarizes his visit to the PDJ in his book “War in Shangri_La” (4):

    “ … There were about a hundred, scattered in a small area in front of a cave in a bluff overhung with trees. Shaped like beer barrels they were hewn out of single blocks of what looked like granite, and varied in size from less than one meter to over two meters in height. It is assumed that they were used as burial urns, but nothing is known of the civilization that produced them. Their bases were buried in the ground and they were somewhat reminiscent of the huge stone heads of Easter Island – much smaller, less striking but equally mysterious.”

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    Bomb craters and trench lines, surrounded by the reassuring MAG delimitation stones, add another perspective to the tour. A visit to a small cave gives an example of a shelter used by the Phatet Lao. This one is a tiny dwelling, compared to the huge dens of Xam Nuea, but it is worth a peek

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    The link between the first and second jars site is on a dirt road, sometimes improved with no less treacherous gravels. As the region lies at an altitude above one thousand meters, the temperature is moderate and enjoyable. My trip became even cooler, as dark clouds favored me with a shower that I hurried to escape again.
    A providential noodle shop offered a convenient haven with food and drinks. The menu was actually limited to “foer” (Lao rice noodle soup) and drinking water. By the time I had savored the local potion and chatted with amazed people, the rain had stopped.

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    I continued to the second jars site, were another shelter would be available if needed. Climbing to the entrance, on a red clay trail, soaked by the rain, was no feast for my road bike. I was on a slippery slope and, after a third of the way, had to throw in the towel and slide back. My friend wore heavy mud soles and my own shoes were loaded with sticky earth. I dragged my feet up to the summit, trying to clear the mess in the small grass border.

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    The second site is smaller and less accessible than the previous one. It is also darker as most jars are under the cover of trees.

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    The way to the next important site is also on a dirt road. It meanders through tender green hills exposing unhealed bomb scars.

    The bike has to be parked at the entrance, near to a restaurant. From there, I walked for quite a while, on a narrow causeway, passing small bridges an animal barriers, to the hilltop and toward the jars.

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    Although I had now contemplated many of these mysterious bottles, my admiration was still intact. All are different in shapes, settings and backdrops. Seen only through the eyes, they are just broken stones littering a landscape and hardly worth a visit. To fully appreciate the jars one has to sense the spirit of the site, feel the emotion of the history, let the imagination digress into the past and return to the peace of the moment, with the fallacious hope that all ordnances remain mute for ever.

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    In this site also, bomb craters and trench lines are part of the visit. I was again the sole tourist, ambling on marked footpaths, happy to greet a local woman and to cross amazed buffaloes. Solemnity, a pleasant silence and the feeling of peace, emanate from this crossroad of prehistoric testimonials with modern memories of human craze.

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    Additional steps, required to access the third jars site, are rewarded by a scenic landscape of hills, forests and paddy fields.

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    I bid farewell to the jars and drove back to Ponsavan. The dirt road leads through villages an a countryside with pastoral activities. The former rain kept the dust sticked to the trail, and the ride was enjoyable.

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    As I had conducted my friend through muddy and dusty roads, I felt obliged to offer her a full shower, before I stalled her for the night.

    The late afternoon sun casted long shadows on Phonasavan. As the light began to dim, I installed myself comfortably in the “Crater Bar”, for some drinks and food treats, whilst observing the slow pace life on the main street.

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    The return journey on route 7

    The magic of lingering mist, enveloping the morning scenery, made me forget that I had traveled the same road just two days earlier. It was not a trip back, but the encounter with a new landscape, softly toned with light shades of grey. People appeared and vanished in the haze at the slow rhythm of a reduced driving speed.

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    Children, walking to school, are willing models for a couple of pictures. They might seem much the same everywhere, as they often wear similar dresses, are timorous but cheering and greet foreigners with enthusiasm, amazement and curiosity. In fact they are so unique, so filled with personality, that every encounter is a bliss, an opportunity to fill memories with smiles, giggles and laughers.

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    The landscape, on route 7, reminds me of the Swiss Jura hills, covered with pine trees. The trail is a biker's promenade winding and undulating enough to make it interesting, but smooth enough to enjoy the scenery, observe village life and watch amazing activities.

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    Toward the West, in direction of Phou Khoun and after the plateau around Phonsavan, route 7 is mostly cut through hills and mountains. It is a narrow link and dwellings are encroached on the pavement, the road also being the village place. It is not a sector for speed but it affords great opportunity to greet people and exchange smiles.

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    Phou Vieng, a couple of meanders, and I was already driving down the last curves toward Phou Khoun. In this city, I filled my bike's tank, eat some breakfast and gave a last glance at route 7, pledging to come back for a longer visit to the Xieng Khouang region.

    Route 13 waited at the intersection, leading me down to Vang Vieng.

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  2. Jurgen

    Jurgen Moderator

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    (1)
    An Easy Road to Laos

    a. Preamble
    b. Back home
    c. Preparing the trip

    1. Huay Kong - Pak Beng crossing point
    1.1 Up to Chian Klang
    1.2 Crosing the border (MuangNgeun)
    1.3 Pak Beng and route 2W

    2. The road to Luang Prabang
    2.1 Oudom Xai (and region)
    2.2 A night in Nong Khiew (route 13 and 1C)
    2.3 Luang Prabang

    3. Plain of Jars loop
    3.1 Route 7 to the Plain of Jars
    3.2 Phonsavan (Xieng Khuang)
    3.3 The jars sites
    3.4 The return journey on route 7

    4. Back to Nong Khai
    4.1 Vang Vieng
    4.2 Nam Ngum lake (route 10)
    4.3 Vientiane
    4.4 Friendship Bridge to Nong Khai

    5. Closing the loop to Chiangmai
    5.1 Along the Mekong to Chiang Khan
    5.2 Over Phu Rua to Uttaradit
    5.3 The final link
     
  3. Jurgen

    Jurgen Moderator

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    (2)
    The Ravens, Pilots of the Secret War of Laos
    Christopher Robbins
    Asia Books Co., Ltd
    Bangkok, 2000

    (True stories about pilots fighting the secret war inside Laos and a point of view about American politics in the region)

    (3) MAG (Mines Advisory Group) www.maginternational.org

    (4) War in Shangri-La
    A Memoir of Civil War in Laos
    Mervyn Brown
    Silkworm Books 2004

    (A personal chronicle of the first years of civil war in Laos, by the deputy of the British Ambassador)
     
  4. Jurgen

    Jurgen Moderator

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    (5)
    additional trip maps:

    From Luang Prabang over Phoun intersection to route 7
    LPG%20to%20Phon%201.

    Jars sites 1 and 2
    jars%20sites.
     
  5. Franz

    Franz Ol'Timer

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    Juergen, what a trip and marvellous fotos !!!! Simply beautiful, are you heading back to Laos soon ???? Hope to see you at the GTR dinner next Wednesday to hear the story of your recent trip from you...... :thumbup: :mrgreen: , cheers, Franz
     
  6. johngooding

    johngooding Ol'Timer

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    Thanks Jurgen, just echoing the previous comments, outstanding report, deserves to be a book.
     
  7. Jurgen

    Jurgen Moderator

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    Thank you friends, as always, you are very indulgent with me. I am of course encouraged by your positive comments.

    As this trip was at the beginning of May there was really nobody around and nobody interested to take away pieces of my bike ... but I understand that a BM is attractive :), more than a Thai build Kawa :)! Anyway it is good to be warned, I often forget the keys on my bike :(

    Yes Franz, I am happy to meeting you again on Wednesday. I am just back from South Laos. Unfortunately, and even so I am quite an unhurried driver, my fingers are even slower on the keyboard. I still have to finish the North Laos trip report before writing about the South ... and one Isan journey is still in the box, waiting his turn to be online.
     
  8. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Jurgen
    Absolutely superb. :clap: :clap:
     
  9. Auke

    Auke Ol'Timer

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    Jurgen,

    Don't know how you manage to get all these beautiful pictures of the kids on the way to school but I really like them as they show the spirit of the younger generation of Laos.

    By the way, your fish traps are probably pico-hydro units used to generate electricity for lighting. They are cheap and, probably because of that, they are not very safe. In Laos every year several people are killed when they stand barefoot in the water and either try to adjust the position of the unit which is just a propeller attached to a shaft which drives a generator or connect the wires while the unit is running.
     
  10. Jurgen

    Jurgen Moderator

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    Thank you Auke, I am happy to get a precision from an expert and will adjust once my legend. I thought that people can only catch fish in a river :) ... but you are right they might also produce electricity.

    As for the photographs of kids, no merit, I just look at them and release the shutter. Such natural people do not need skilled photographers to look good in pictures.
     
  11. stonevedder

    stonevedder Active Member

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    Beautiful photography! Like flipping through a National Geographic. Thank-you.
     
  12. Iwantablackrz

    Iwantablackrz Ol'Timer

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    Fantastic report. I really enjoyed that. I should be there now if it wasn't for some unforseen circumstances so I really get to travel through your writing!

    You should write a book.
     
  13. rmbike

    rmbike Ol'Timer

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    Very nice report

    I did my first ever project book report on Lao back in grade 3? some 40 years ago

    In it I describe Lao as being rural and agricultural, seems a lot has changed :lol-sign:

    Cheers
     
  14. Noel Akers

    Noel Akers Ol'Timer

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    Exceptional Jurgen. My wife and I were there on our bike a few years ago , and your brilliant story and pics brought back a flood of memories that was very refreshing. The Ravens book was also a huge stimulation for us going there, as being an ex pilot , I was fascinated with how and where these guys flew their missions. Thank you.
     
  15. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer

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    I agree Auke, my photos aren't as great as Jurgen's, but this is from an earlier post I did........

    Fantastic photos and report Jurgen :thumbup:
     
  16. burnjr

    burnjr Ol'Timer

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    nice trip brothers thanks for sharing
    :happy2:
     
  17. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Bump for the Plain of Jars photos.
     
  18. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Bump for Kay & Noah.
     
  19. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Update - The Plain Of Jars Mystery solved?
    April 2016

    One of Asia's most mysterious archaeological sites, the Plain of Jars in Laos, was used as an ancient burial ground, Australian researchers say.
    The Plain of Jars in central Laos is made up of 90 sites, each containing ancient carved stone jars up to three metres tall.
    On Monday, the Australian National University (ANU) announced a team from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology had discovered human remains estimated to be 2,500 years old, shedding light on the use of the sites and jars which had been previously unknown.

    Bones in a grave at the Plain of Jars in Laos.
    81dd8081-8845-4703-b451-84d31411954a_cx1_cy6_cw99_mw1024_s_n_r1-.
    Photo: Researchers also uncovered the first primary burial to be discovered at the site. (Supplied: Australian National University)

    Lead ANU researcher Dr Dougald O'Reilly said the project was the first major archaeological dig at the Plain of Jars since the 1930s.
    "One theory is that [the jars] were used to decompose the bodies. Later, after the flesh was removed, the remains may have been buried around the jars," Dr O'Reilly said.
    "What is now clear is that these are mortuary and were used for the disposal of the dead."

    primary-burial-poj-1-.

    Dr O'Reilly said the jars ranged in size between one to three metres in height and some weighed in excess of 10 tonnes.
    "The use of these jars was probably during the Iron Age of South-East Asia," he said.
    "What we found were secondary burials, so these are human bones that have been collected up and buried around the jars and we don't have any evidence of cremation in those cases."
    Dr O'Reilly said the dig in February had unearthed two different types of secondary burial, as well as the first-known primary burial at the sites.
    "They were either buried just bundles of bones or it appears they were put into ceramic containers and then buried," he said.
    "But exciting for us, we also found evidence of primary burial, which hadn't been reported in Laos before, so this is a person who is just buried straight into a grave in the ground."
    He said scientific analysis of how and why the burial jars were used would also shed light on the day-to-day life of the people who used the burial system.
    "This will open up a huge amount of information into who these people were," he said.
    "We're trying to find evidence of occupation. Because these are mortuary sites, there's no evidence of people living near them.
    "Indeed if the jars were used to decompose bodies you probably wouldn't want to be living in close proximity to them."

    The excavations conducted in February 2016 formed part of a five-year Australian Research Council Discovery Project, which is being managed in conjunction with Monash University and the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

    Source: ABC NEws Australia.

    A drone's eye view of site 1


    Thank you again Jurgen for this wonderful report.

    Some other links on solving the mystery of the jars

    New Findings on Lao Plain of Jars Help Unravel Ancient Mysteries

    The ancient mystery hiding in these jars

    Lao Plain of Jars new findings may help solve the mystery

    Researchers Crack Open the Mysterious Plain of Jars | Smart News | Smithsonian

    Researchers Renew Efforts to Solve the Puzzling Plain of Jars Site
     
  20. Big_Dave

    Big_Dave Ol'Timer

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    Amazing place. Looking fwd to visiting it.
     
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    DavidFL Administrator
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    Another update on the excavation & history of the Plain of Jars

    Site-1-Group-2-copy.

    23 July 2020
    Plain of Jars - World Archaeology

    Researching a newly inscribed World Heritage Site

    Clusters of massive stone jars in Laos have inspired considerable curiosity. Little is known about the people who fashioned them, while even the date they were created has not been conclusively resolved. Louise Shewan, Dougald O’Reilly, and Thonglith Luangkhoth explain what research is revealing about these mysterious megaliths.

    The breathtaking, mountainous, and forested landscape of northern Laos conceals one of South-east Asia’s most mysterious and least understood archaeological cultures, known primarily for the massive stone jars they left behind. The megalithic jar sites of Laos comprise 1m- to 3m-tall carved stone jars scattered across the landscape, appearing alone or in clusters of up to several hundred. To date, it has been thought they are related to the funerary rituals of an elusive, powerful, and expansive group that existed during the Iron Age (c.500 BC-AD 500) – a dynamic period with evidence for increasing social and political complexity. The sites were brought to the attention of Western scholars by visitors and surveyors from as early as the late 1800s.

    Significant research commenced with the pioneering expeditions by Madeleine Colani (1866-1943), a formidable French geologist and archaeologist from the École Française d’Extrême-Orient. Colani excavated at the now-famous site of Ban Ang (today known as Ban Hai Hin, and Site 1) and documented some 20 other sites in the region. Her work uncovered human skeletal remains and artefacts including ceramic vessels, stone and glass beads, spindle whorls, iron implements, bronze jewellery, ceramic ear-discs, and ground-stone objects. In some cases, human bone and glass beads were reportedly found inside the jars, but they were otherwise empty. Since Colani’s missions and impressive subsequent two-volume publication, archaeological excavation and research has been limited, due in part to the unexploded military ordnance contaminating the region (see www.uxolao.org/en), a tragic legacy of the Vietnam War.

    CAM20001.
    Madeleine Colani, an archaeologist from the École Française d’Extrême-Orient, excavated at Ban Ang and documented some 20 other sites in the region on her pioneering expeditions. (Photo: EFEO)

    Work resumed in the 1990s, conducted by Eiji Nitta and Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy. This resulted in the recovery of similar material culture to that reported by Colani, but it was also observed that chipped stone pavements surrounded the stone jars and, in some instances, buried limestone slabs mark the location of primary and secondary burials, while boulders marked the location of burial jars. A series of radiocarbon dates were also produced, which ranged widely from 7552 BC to AD 1214. Following this research, UNESCO-supported surveys in the 2000s – undertaken by a team led by Julie Van Den Bergh and Samlane Luangaphay – resulted in the creation of a detailed database of 58 GPS-located jar sites, complete with jar group numbers, and a list of an additional 26 unexplored sites. Since then, the number of recorded sites has steadily increased as a result of more recent survey and excavation. The total now stands at over 100 sites, with many more likely to exist, concealed by dense forest. In July 2019, UNESCO recognised the significance of these remarkable relics, when it added the Plain of Jars to its list of World Heritage Sites.

    aerial-shot-excavation-site-1.
    Excavations under way among the Group 2 jars at Ban Hai Hin. Work revealed a number of burials, emphasising the mortuary nature of the site.

    The jars of Laos are not the only such megalithic receptacles known in the wider region. Seemingly comparable examples are found in Assam, in Northeast India, where both the geography and environment are strikingly similar to those of upland Laos. Another intriguing example of megalithic jars occurs in Central Sulawesi, in Indonesia, where large stone vats called kalambas bear some resemblance to the jars of Laos.

    Return to Ban Ang
    In 2016, an international Lao–Australian team conducted excavation and survey at Ban Hai Hin (Site 1), creating a detailed inventory of the stone jars, burial-marker boulders, and sandstone discs. Each megalith was accurately geolocated, while their appearance and state of preservation were carefully registered to aid ongoing conservation measures. Site 1 is dominated by a limestone cave that Colani suggested functioned as a crematorium. The mouth of the cave faces over 316 stone jars, arranged in five groups. A small hill to the north is home to the largest and most-impressive jars, which are known as Group 1. The most-numerous set (Group 2) lies at a lower elevation, and was arranged in a crescent in front of the cave mouth. Three smaller groups of jars to the south make up the remainder of the site, bringing it to nearly 30ha in extent. Interspersed among the jars were more than 20 sandstone discs. Although these are often thought to be the jar lids, this interpretation is questionable, as there are many more jars than discs, and the discs have also been found to mark burial places. In addition, there were 308 boulders that are natural, but exotic – meaning they do not naturally occur at the site – all of which were captured with drone-acquired imagery. As noted, the boulders appear to be tombstones of sorts, heralding the position of buried ceramic funerary jars.

    homepage2.
    Among the Ban Hai Hin jars, the cluster known as Group 1, on a low hill, are the largest and most impressive.

    We opened three trenches around the Group 2 jars, which revealed the remains of at least 18 individuals, who were found in a variety of settings. Most individuals proved to be secondary burials, which could take the form of disarticulated bundles of bone or remains placed in ceramic vessels. For the first time, though, we also found what seems to be a primary extended burial, on the basis that the skeleton was completely articulated. More than 60% of the deceased were infants and children, almost half of whom died at the foetal stage or in early infancy. Extrapolating from this suggests that the area immediately around the Site 1 megaliths could, potentially, contain the remains of more than 8,000 individuals. Isotope analysis is now under way to investigate how these people lived and what sort of diet they enjoyed. These results will also be compared to baseline environmental isotopic data to explore where the interred individuals may have spent their childhoods.

    Radiocarbon dating of charcoal samples produced dates spanning 8200 BC to AD 1200, with the majority suggesting that activity around the Group 2 jars occurred between the 9th and 13th centuries AD, making it considerably more recent than the Iron Age dates previously reported for the site. However, only one of these dates (AD 1163-1125) was produced by material retrieved from beneath a jar, so further evidence is needed to confirm their exact date of placement, as the burial activity is not necessarily contemporary with when the jars were installed. Currently, a programme is under way to secure further radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates from sediments sealed beneath the jars, to try to pin down when they were positioned.

    LS-and-DOR-Authors-retrieving-teeth-from-under-Disc-Site-1.
    The authors retrieve teeth from under a disc at Ban Hai Hin.

    Another vexing issue is how such massive megaliths, some weighing in excess of 30 tonnes, were transported from their quarry across the rolling landscape. A soon-to-be-published geochronological study of jars from Site 1 has confirmed that they probably came from a quarry at Phukeng, some 8km away. This raises several, as-yet unanswered questions related to the method of megalith movement. Possibilities include the completed vessels being hauled from the quarry using a rolling pulley system or perhaps drawn by elephants or buffalo, but whatever the solution, or solutions, manoeuvring the megaliths was clearly a significant logistical and organisational undertaking

    Disc-from-site-2.
    The jars at Ban Nakho lie on a hill about 12km from those at Ban Hai Hin. Some of the 15 discs at Ban Nakho feature decorative circles or figures.

    Despite the fame of Ban Hai Hin, it is unusual among the jar sites in Xieng Khouang province, because most jars were placed not on the plain, but at higher altitudes perched on ridges and hill slopes. Prior to 2017, none of these had been extensively investigated. With this in mind, the research team focused its attention to the north-east of Site 1, on a remote, mountainous region. This is home to Site 52, which is situated at a height of about 1,300m near a Hmong village, in rugged and forested terrain. Some 415 jars, along with 219 discs and boulders, are laid out in six discrete groups among the trees and thick undergrowth. Several of the discs are decorated with carved zoomorphic figures.

    site-52-misty-morning.
    Site 52, on a misty morning. It lies in a remote upland region, a setting more representative of the majority of the Laos jar placements than those at Ban Hai Hin.

    Our aim was to collect data from Site 52 that could be compared to Site 1. To that end, eight areas were selected for excavation based on the presence of jars, discs, and boulders. The excavations revealed significantly less material culture than was encountered at Site 1 and – aside from a single tooth – no skeletal material. Despite the sparsity of artefacts, features such as the presence of sandstone chip pavements and exotic limestone blocks were closely comparable to elements associated with burials at Site 1. As the absence of human bone at Site 52 could be explained by it being eaten away by the acidic soil, it seems reasonable to suggest that the site was also mortuary in nature.

    See also Moto-Rex's repot: Phu Keng Jar Quarry site, also known as Keng Mountain. Phonsavan Jars with steps.
     
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