Sometimes described as an “Asian Stonehenge”, the Plain of Jars is an area in Laos covered in thousands of stone jars. The jars have all been carved out of solid rock and range from one metre high (not terribly impressive) all the way up to three metres high (slightly impressive).
Local legend says that the jars were made by a race of giants, and that they were used to store giant-sized quantities of alcohol for parties. Archaeologists who’ve studied the site, however, believe that this theory is unlikely to be correct.
Before you get any ideas about washing out one of these massive jars and filling it full of homemade jam, you might like to know that many of them have been found to contain human remains. The leading theory for the jars’ existence is that they were used in some kind of iron-age burial ritual – it seems that being burned and stuffed in a jar was a positive thing, while other (presumably less important) people were buried nearby.
The shape of the jars has lead researchers to think that they would have had lids (and a few stone lids have been found in the area). However, no jar has ever been found with its lid still on and this suggests that most of them were probably made from some kind of material that has since decomposed. It’s possible that, like all good jars, any lid would’ve been covered in a piece of checked fabric held on by an elastic band, although I should say that there’s no evidence to support this.
Unfortunately, given that the jars are thought to have been made between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, many of them have been destroyed very recently. In the mid-twentieth century, Laos had a civil war and, because one side were communists, America dropped so many bombs on them that Laos remains the most bombed country, per capita, in history. A lot of these bombs landed on the Plain of Jars, irreparably damaging the ancient artefacts, while an estimated 80 million cluster bombs failed to explode and mean that large parts of the site remain inaccessible.
It seems a shame that such an old and historically-interesting area should’ve been damaged in this way (and the jars had been extensively studied in the 1930s, so it’s not as if they didn’t know they were there). Still, at least America achieved its aim of stopping the communists. Oh wait, no, that’s wrong – Laos remains (along with China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam) one of the only surviving socialist states.
Don’t forget your travel insurance if you plan on checking out these jars.