Laos' mysterious jars to aim for World Heritage nomination by 2011

The mysterious plain of jars in Northeastern Laos is still one of the biggest uninvestigated archaeological sites in Southeast Asia – largely uninvestigated because of the huge amount of cluster bombs dropped there by US forces 40 years ago. From what little that has been investigated, it seems that the jars were places of transition in the funerary rite where bodies were left to decompose before going through a final burial. The UNESCO-Lao project in Bangkok is aiming to nominate the plain as a World Heritage Site in 2011, but this is dependent on the amount of research to be done and the clearing of unexploded ordanance.

Jars of wonder, jars of hope
The Star, 07 Dec 2008

The over 2,000 gigantic jars scattered across the highlands of northeastern Laos have baffled archeologists for decades. Nobody can confirm who made these enigmatic jars or its purpose although they are a significant contribution towards the study of the late prehistory of mainland South-East Asia and hold clues to its earliest cities.

For the past 30 years, researchers have risked their lives to examine them:

the Plain of Jars is an archeological site so dangerous that not even Indiana Jones would venture here! His whip is no match for the millions of unexploded ordnance, or UXO, buried in these hills.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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