Archaeology of Laos

Southeast Asia’s only landlocked country has many secrets to reveal. From the Plain of Jars in Xiengkhouang Province to the royal capital of Luang Prabang and the ancient Khmer Ruins of Vat Phou, Laos is replete with archaeological treasures.

To cite this page: Tan, Noel Hidalgo (2021, updated 20 August 2022) Archaeology of Laos. Southeast Asian Archaeology. Available at: https://www.southeastasianarchaeology.com/laos-archaeology/
If you found this page useful, consider showing support by Buying me a Coffee.
Overview
Overview
Recommended Books and Readings
Recommended Books
Most Popular Posts
Most Popular Posts
News Archive
News Archive
Links to other websites
Links to other websites
Online Lecture Library
A searchable collection on publicly-available lectures
Virtual Archaeology
Archaeological sites and museums you can visit online
Archaeological Projects in Southeast Asia
A list of past and present archaeological project websites
Journals and Scholarly Research
Scholarly research and a list of Southeast Asian archaeology journals
Tools and Software
Field work equipment and digital tool recommendations, with many available for free.
Job postings, scholarships and funding opportunities
Job postings, scholarships and funding opportunities

Overview

Back to top

Laos is a mountainous country with an average elevation of 2,083 m. This terrain with its diverse topography, from the high plateaus of the highlands to the narrow valleys and myriad waterfalls and rivers, has formed landscapes throughout history. At the same time, the country is relatively harder to access and traverse than its neighbours, which meant that archaeological expeditions have been harder to conduct.

What is known from the archaeology of Laos is regionally significant. One of the oldest examples of anatomically modern humans was discovered in Tam Pa Ling in northern Laos, indicating that humans were in Southeast Asia from at least around 60,000 years ago. Around the late second millennium BCE, people starting making giant stone jars and arranging them on elevated areas along the Xiengkhouang Plateau; these jar sites were later used as burial areas in the first millennium CE.

In the fifth century CE, southern Laos was a likely a part of Chenla with the ruins at Vat Phou as a capital; this area also later came under Khmer control during the Angkorian period. In the 14th century, a ruler named Fa Ngum established a kingdom known as Lan Xang, meaning “the million elephants”, centred around Muang Sewa (present-day Luang Prabang), with the aid of Angkor. Over the 15th century Lan Xang flourished, jockeying for territorial control and influence amongst other regional kingdoms, until the 18th century when it became a vassal for the Siamese.

In the 19th century, the by-then three kingdoms of Laos (Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champassak) became a unified protectorate of the French. It remained a French terrirtory until after World War II, when it gained independence. After a period of civil war, and having suffered intense bombings as a result of the Vietnam-American War, the country remains one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia. The government has little infrastruture and its few museums are poorly funded and have small collections. As a result, archaeological research is difficult without institutional support; however, this is improving as new generations of Laotians become more educated and aware of their country’s heritage. Only with greater public interest and awareness can increased funds be granted to the many historical sites which remain to be excavated.

Recommended Books

Back to top

There aren’t many books about the archaeology of Laos, and the list below is my personal recommendations based on what I have in my library or have read. Newer books are higher up on the list. Some of these links are affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you click on them and make a purchase. For other sources of reliable academic information, you should also check out the books page for latest releases and the occassional free book, as well as the journals page for the latest scientific research.

Last update on 2023-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Most Popular Posts

Back to top

These links are dynamically generated and are based on the most viewed posts in the last 30 days.

Lao Archaeology in the News

Back to top

The news reports indexed below usually link to external sites that were active at the time of posting; sometimes websites may be temporarily down or may have reorganised their underlying architecture or have even closed down – in these cases the links may not be available. Most of the news articles archived are in English; this is largely because I do not have a working competency in Lao, although when I am made aware of stories in this and other languages I try to index them.

Links to Lao Archaeology Sites

Back to top

These are links to external sites and unless stated, I have no connection with the organisations or entities in these links or control over their content. They are sorted alphabetically, but you should also explore the Resources page which have links sorted by themes. If you have a link to suggest, please get in touch!