Plain of Jars,Laos

More than 90 jar sites have been identified within Xiangkhouang Province. Each site has from one to 400 stone jars. The jars vary in height and diameter between 1m and 3m and are all hewn from rock. Their shape is cylindrical with the bottom always wider than the top.

Carved from huge blocks of sandstone and limestone, the jars on the Xieng Khouang plateau date from 500BC to 500AD.They appear to have been quarried from several areas in the Xieng Kouang foothills before being spread over more than 90 sites, numbering from just a handful in some areas to hundreds in others.

Each has a cylindrical shape with the bottom wider than the top and most have lip rims, raising suspicions that the jars originally had lids. However, few stone lids have ever been found at the sites.Just one jar has been found to have been decorated with a human 'frogman' relief carved on the exterior.

Between 1964 and 1973, the Plain of Jars was heavily bombed by the U.S. Air Force operating against North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao communist forces. The U.S. Air Force dropped more bombs on Laos, primarily the Plain of Jars, than it dropped during the whole of World War II. This included 262 million anti-personnel cluster bombs. An estimated 80 million of these did not explode and remain a deadly threat to the population.

The large quantity of unexploded bombs in the area, especially cluster munitions, limits free movement. Evidence of the bombing raids can be seen in the form of broken or displaced jars and bomb craters. Sightseeing on the Plain of Jars can only be done safely on cleared and marked pathways.

Lao legends tell of a race of giants who inhabited the area and who were ruled by a king, named Khun Cheung, who fought a long and ultimately victorious battle against an enemy. He supposedly created the jars to brew and store huge amounts of lau hai ("lau" means "alcohol", "hai" means "jar"—So "lau hai" means rice beer or rice wine in the jars) to celebrate his victory. Another local story states that the jars were molded from natural materials including clay, sand, sugar, and animal products in a type of stone mix. This led the locals to believe the cave at Site 1 was actually a kiln, and that the jars were fired there and are not actually hewn from stone.

Another suggested explanation for the jars' use is to collect monsoon rainwater for caravan travelers along their journey at times when rain may have been seasonal and water was not readily available on the easiest foot paths. Rainwater would then be boiled, even if stagnant, to become potable again, a practice long understood in Eastern Eurasia. The trade caravans that camped around these jars could have placed beads inside them as offerings, accompanying prayers for rain. Or the beads might simply have been unassociated lost items.


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