Enigmatic and mysterious, The Plain of Jars (sometimes called “The Asian Stonehenge”) is an incredible megalith landscape of huge hand-made stone jars located in Laos. Made up of mysterious caves and hundreds of hollowed-out stones around one to three meters high and weighing up to 13 tons each, scattered over more than 90 sites across the Xiengkhouang plateau. Dated to have originated sometime between 500 BC – 800 AD, some jars stand alone, while others are part of small clusters. The area is steeped in local myth, and has been called the most mysterious place in Laos.
Local folklore says that the area used to be inhabited by a race of giants, and that their king Khun Cheung threw a party after a victorious battle in a long and brutal war. According to this legend, the jars were used to create and store Lao Lao,
(a potent rice wine traditional in Laos) for consumption at a massive victory celebration. The bigger jars were used by important giants, and the biggest jar reserved for the king himself. Apparently these ancient giants didn’t clean up after the party, as the jars remain scattered all over the area.
Little is known about the origins of the site, but archaeologists have speculated that the jars were actually used for ancient burial or cremation practices, as human remains and small statues of Buddha have been found in some of the jars. However, most of the jars are found along popular trade routes and in areas that were heavily populated, suggesting that their use may have been more practical. Some believe that they were used to collect and store rainwater, while some believe that the rimmed lids are evidence of their use as kilns or storage units for perishable materials.
Archaeological research has been spotty for the same reason that tourism is very light: the area was a war zone in the 60s and 70s, and there are still many unexploded bombs and hidden booby traps around these structures. Visitors are advised to walk carefully between marked flags on trails.
MORE ABOUT THE PLAIN OF JARS:
- While most jars are undecorated, there is a single jar that is adorned with a carving, often referred to as the “frogman.” The carving is sometimes compared to the Rock Paintings of Hua Mountain because of the similarities in style. The painting features hundreds of human and animal figures, some of which are notably large in comparison with the other figures.
- Archaeologist Madeleine Colani links the jars in Laos to similar jars found in India and Vietnam that also contained small artifacts. Colani speculated that the jars were created along trade lines, and that more would likely be found along the trail she suspected was used.
- Created for a character design class and posted to deviantART, Sarah Keokanock‘s Alice in the Plain of Jars (pictured below) places Alice not in Wonderland but rather in 1870’s Indochina. Perched on one of the Jars is the Cheshire Cat Monk. (via the artist’s deviantART page — Nupastel on Brown Rough Sketch paper)
- Pithily titled: Plain of Jars, Bill Cuthbert’s installation (pictured below) was part of the Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2000. (jars, light bulbs, fittings and a wood table, 870 x 2000 x 2000 mm)
- Wikitravel page for Phonsavan (the town nearest to The Plain of Jars) – including information on what to do, where to stay, and how to stay safe.
- The Plain of Jars homepage – History, culture, and photo galleries covering the entire area.
- Asia Explorers – Maps, travel information, and visitor tips.