Mysterious giant stone jars that may have been used for burial rituals have been unearthed across four new sites in Assam, India. The discovery comes from a major collaboration involving researchers at The Australian National University (ANU). The 65 newly discovered giant stone jars vary in shape and decoration, with some tall and cylindrical, and others partly or fully buried in the ground.
Similar jars, some of which span up to three meters high and two meters wide, have previously been uncovered in Laos and Indonesia. ANU Ph.D. student Nicholas Skopal said:
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“We still don’t know who made the giant jars or where they lived. It’s all a bit of a mystery.”
Another mystery is what the giant stone jars were used for. The researchers believe it is likely they were associated with mortuary practices. Skopal said:
“There are stories from the Naga people, the current ethnic groups in north-east India, of finding the Assam jars filled with cremated remains, beads and other material artefacts.”
The giant stone jars appear to be funerary jars
This theory aligns with findings from the other sites with giant stone jars in other countries, including Laos, which are also tied to burial rituals. Initially, the aim of the new research was to survey the existing sites in Assam. However, as the researchers moved about the landscape, they realized there was more to be uncovered. Skopal said:
“At the start the team just went in to survey three large sites that hadn’t been formally surveyed. From there grids were set up to explore the surrounding densely forested regions. This is when we first started finding new jar sites. The team only searched a very limited area so there are likely to be a lot more out there, we just don’t yet know where they are.”
The surveying and reporting of these sites are of great importance in regard to heritage management in India. Skopal continued:
“It seems as though there aren’t any living ethnic groups in India associated with the jars, which means there is an importance to maintain the cultural heritage. The longer we take to find them, the greater chance that they will be destroyed, as more crops are planted in these areas and the forests are cut down.”
The researchers worked with local communities on the ground to uncover potential sites with giant stone jars, often through areas of mountainous jungle that were difficult to navigate. Skopal concluded:
“Once the sites have been recorded, it becomes easier for the government to work with the local communities to protect and maintain them so they are not being destroyed.”
The research was led by Tilok Thakuria, from North Eastern Hill University, and Uttam Bathari, from Gauhati University.
The study’s findings are published in the Journal of Asian Archaeology.
Provided by Australian National University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]