The Plain of Jars (Lao: ton hai hin) is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos. Scattered in the landscape of the Xieng Khouang plateau Xieng Khouang, Lao PDR are thousands of megalithic jars. These stone jars appear in clusters, ranging from a single or a few to several hundred jars at lower foothills surrounding the central plain and upland valleys. The Xieng Khouang Plateau is located at the northern end of the Annamese Cordillera, the principal mountain range of Indochina. Initial research of the Plain of Jars in the early 1930s suggested that the stone jars are associated with prehistoric burial practices. Excavation by Lao and Japanese archaeologists in the intervening years has supported this interpretation with the discovery of human remains, burial goods and ceramics around the stone jars. The Plain of Jars is dated to the Iron Age (500 BCE to 500 CE) and is one of the most fascinating and important sites for studying Southeast Asian prehistory. The Plain of Jars has the potential to shed light on the relationship between increasingly complex societies and megalithic structures and provide insight into social organisation of Iron Age Southeast Asia’s communities. To visit the jar sites one would typically stay in Phonsavan.
The jar sites
Colani connected the location of the jars sites to ancient trade routes and in particular with the salt trade. Colani assumed salt was a commodity sought after by the Plain of Jars people, bringing the traders to the Xieng Khouang Plateau. The Xieng Khouang area is rich in metallic minerals mainly due to the granite intrusions and associated hydrothermal activity. Two principal iron ore deposits exist in Lao and both are located in Xieng Khouang. The presence and locations of the numerous jar sites in Xieng Khouang may relate to trading and mining activities. History has also shown that Xieng Khouang at the northern end of the Annamite Range provides relative easy passage from the north and east to the south and west. Within the geographic setting of Xieng Khouang the jar sites may reflect a network of intercultural villages. Whereby the location of the jars are associated to long-distance overland routes which connect the Mekong basin and the Gulf of Tonkin System. The jar sites show superficial regional differences such as jar form, material and number of jars per site but share common setting characteristics such as burial practices, elevated locations and commanding views over the surrounding area.
The most investigated and visited Jar site is located close to the town of Phonsavan, and is known as Site 1. Seven jar sites however, have been cleared of UXO (unexploded bombs) and are open to visitors. These are currently most visited Site 1, 2 and 3, and Site 16 near the Old Capital Xieng Khouang, Site 23, near the big hot spring in Muang Kham, Site 25 in the largely unvisited Muang Phukoot district and Site 52, the largest known jar site to date with 392 jars near a traditional Hmong village only accessible on foot. The UXO are remnants of Secret War in Laos in the 1960s. The large quantity of UXOs (unexploded ordinances), in particular cluster munitions, in the area limits free movement. At Site 1 evidence of the war can be seen in the form of broken or displaced jars, trench systems and bomb craters.
Legends and local history