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:: The Plain of Jars

Plai of JarsThere are mysteries in this world which have existed for centuries but that have never been satisfactorily solved. The Plain of Jars in Laos is one of them. Hundreds of stone jars lie around the landscape at an estimated 50 sites, and their origin at this time has been established at around 3,000 years ago, a few hundreds of kilometres away from their current location. But their use is not yet clarified.

Actually, the jars are not just scattered around in a random way, but deliberately placed in positions which make them form constellations of stars. Their use has been thought to be graves or hiding places of jewelry, among others. Theories are still in development, as is the clearance of other sites which lie in areas where bombing has been particularly heavy. And who knows how many more sites are hidden under the parts of the landscape which are still covered by their original thick green cover.

Plai of JarsAn air of mystery hangs over the Plain of Jars. Local folklore says that, in the 6th century, the warrior king, Khun Jeuam, brought his army from Southern China and defeated the evil chieftain, Chao Angka. The mighty battle was followed by a mighty feast, at which hundreds of gigantic jars of lao-lao rice wine were consumed. Khun Jeuam was, apparently, as bad at tidying up as he was good at throwing parties, for he left behind all of the empty jars, of which nearly three hundred remain, scattered around the flat plains near Phonsavan, including his own six-tonne 'victory cup.'

There is little physical evidence to say that this fanciful legend does not hold at least a little truth. Major wars have been fought on the plains over the centuries, as both Lao, Siamese and Vietnamese armies attempted to win control of them. In the nineteenth century, Chinese bandits further pillaged the plains so that, by the time French archaeologist, Madeleine Colani, arrived in the mid-1930s, almost all that remained of the ancient civilization of the plains were the jars.

Plain of JarsColani claimed to have discovered beads, bronzes and other artifacts that led her to believe that the jars were funerary urns, dating back 2000 years - an opinion that is held by many researchers today. However, Colani could not shed any light on how the huge jars, carved from non-indigenous limestone, had been transported to the plains - or why so many remained, despite centuries of war. Another mystery surrounds the artifacts Colani found at the site, for they have all since vanished.

One last mystery. Though many battles have ravaged these plains, most devastating were the secret battles and air raids of the Second Indochina War. Hundreds of thousands of bombs rained down upon the plains, destroying, among many others, the beautiful town and temples of Xiang Kuang, while running battles were fought and lost among the jars. American bombers also jettisoned unused bombs over the plains as they returned from raids on Vietnam. Yet, despite all the surrounding devastation, the jars were virtually untouched.