More Mysterious Jars of the Dead Unearthed in Laos

Mysterious giant stone jar found in Laos.

These new sites have really only been visited by the occasional tiger hunter. (Image: via ANU)

Archaeologists have discovered 15 new sites in Laos containing more than 100 1000-year-old massive stone jars possibly used for the dead. These are one of archaeology’s enduring mysteries. Experts believe they were related to the disposal of the dead, but nothing is known about their original purpose and the people who brought them there.

Jar in Xiengkhouang Province, Laos.
Jar in Xiengkhouang Province, Laos. (Image: ANU)

The new finds show that the distribution of these was more widespread than previously thought and could unlock the secrets surrounding their origin.

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Sandstone megalithic jars in Xiengkhouang Province, Laos.
Sandstone megalithic jars in Xiengkhouang Province, Laos. (Image: ANU)

The sites, deep in remote and mountainous forest and containing 137 jars, were identified by ANU Ph.D. student Nicholas Skopal with officials from the Lao government. Skopal said:

UAV view of the excavations at Site 2.
UAV view of the excavations at Site 2. (Image: ANU)

ANU archaeologist Dr. Dougald O’Reilly co-led the team that made the discovery.

Megalithic jars in forest.
Megalithic jars in a forest. (Image: ANU)

He said the new sites show the ancient burial practices were:

Beautifully carved discs were placed around the jars

This year’s excavations revealed beautifully carved discs that are most likely burial markers placed around the jars. Curiously, the decorated side of each disc has been buried face down.

Disc decorated with concentric rings at Site 2- decoration was facing downward.
Disc decorated with concentric rings at Site 2 — the decoration was facing downward. (Image: ANU)

Dr. O’Reilly said the imagery on the discs found so far included concentric circles, pommels, human figures, and creatures, adding:

Among typical iron-age artifacts found with the burials — decorative ceramics, glass beads, iron tools, discs worn in the ears, and spindle whorls for cloth making — one particular find piqued the researchers’ interest. Dr. O’Reilly added:

A newly discovered disc with animal figure at Site 52.
A newly discovered disc with an animal figure at Site 52. (Image: ANU)

Provided by:  Australian National University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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