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Published: September 16th 2018
Plain of Jars
The archaeological site Plain of Jars
2000 years old stone jars and 50 years old bombs
In north central Laos there is a city named Phonsavan
. We went there because we wanted to visit the archaeological site Plain of Jars
and Phonsavan is the city of choice to do that from.
The Plain of Jars consists of possibly as many as 100 separate sites where there are large stone jars standing or lying on the ground. Some of these sites are small, maybe having only a handful or so of these old artefacts, where as others are bigger with several hundreds of jars. The jars are believed to be between 1500 and 2500 years old. Only a few of these sites are today open for visitors and many of the other sites have not even been researched properly. However, a strong recommendation from us is don't try to explore any of the other sites. There is a good reason why they are closed and we'll come to that later on.
The Plain of Jars are as far as we know unique. We have never heard of any other place in the world similar to this. The jars were part of
Plain of Jars
The Plain of Jars consists of possibly as many as 100 separate sites where there are large stone jars standing or lying on the ground.
the burial rituals of the people who lived in the area during the Iron Age. We are not entirely sure how these burial rituals actually worked. One story we heard was that they put the dead bodies in the jars and kept them there until all the soft tissue was gone. After that they either buried the bones in the ground or burned them and buried the ash. That could explain why they have found lids to the jars but that the number of jars far exceeds the number of lids. When they removed the bones from the jars the lids were no longer needed and could be reused for new jars. But why didn't they reuse the jars as well? Alright, maybe the low number of lids doesn't prove anything...
When you read about the Plain of Jars it might strike some of you as strange when we tell you that it is not
a world heritage site. It fits UNESCO's criteria perfectly for being included but it isn't. The main reason is so called UXOs, unexploded ordnance. They are leftovers from the Vietnam war when the USA bombed this area heavily to prevent the North
Plain of Jars
Some of these sites are small, maybe having only a handful or so of these old artefacts, where as others are bigger with several hundreds of jars
Vietnamese army to get supplies sent in from Laos. They estimate that there today is as many as 75 million bombs littering Laos and if you step on one it might lead to you having the worst day of your life.
In the countryside around Phonsavan there are lots of bombs in the ground. There are mine clearance teams working in Laos but detecting and removing the bombs is a slow, dangerous and difficult work. The bombs are the reason why so few of the jar sites are open and can be visited. Many of the others are still littered with old explosive devices from the war. This is also why UNESCO have not listed Plain of Jars as a world heritage site. They wait until more bombs have been removed and more sites can be visited.
Most who come to Phonsavan and Plain of Jars also make sure to visit one or more war related sites in the area. There are quite a few of them and we went to some of them.
Since we didn't have our own vehicle and public transport to and from the jar sites is
Emma and a jar
Some of the jars are almost as high as a person.
scarce we booked ourselves into a full day tour including two jar sites and some other places around Phonsavan. We are now going to write very short about the various stops on the tour. Jar site 1:
A large site which was heavily bombed during the war. There are several large bomb craters in between the jars and less than a hundred meters off the site they were clearing mines when we were there. Jar site 2:
Smaller site situated on two hills. From one of the hills there is a very nice view of the surrounding country side. Crater Village:
Well, that's not the real name of that village, only a nickname. The name comes from that there in a field just outside the village is a cluster of very large bomb craters. Each of the craters is around 10 meters in diameter and up to three meters deep. Tham Piu Cave:
This cave was used as a bomb shelter during the Vietnam war. Several hundreds of people could be there at the same time hoping to avoid the aerial attacks from the US Air Force. However,
Two jars leaning a bit to the side
The jars are believed to be between 1500 and 2500 years old.
on November 24 1968 the bomb shelter was turned into a death trap when a missile penetrated deep into the cave. 374 people were killed in the cave, many of them having very little to do with the war. Hmong Village:
Again a village which is known under another name than it's really called. In the village people from the Hmong people live, hence the name. The village is a tour stop because the villagers are using casings to old bombs and spent aerial tanks, which were dropped when they were used up, as building material. The metal has a very large advantage over wood as a building material because the termites don't eat it. Hot spring:
This was the only stop on the tour which was neither war related nor a jar site. The hot spring is small but very hot. The spring empties its water into a river and when the water is mixed with the river water it is nice to soak in it. Not quite a spa feeling but good anyway.
Beside the path down to the river and the hot spring there grew some plants. These
Plain of Jars
The Plain of Jars are as far as we know unique.
plants have an interesting defence mechanism against grazing animals. When these plants are touched, for instance by a hungry cow taking a bite, they pull up all their leaves against the stem. That makes the plant look like it is a dry tasteless twig. The cow will then avoid the rest of the plant and continue grazing somewhere else. The plant can a few minutes later unfold the leaves again and continue its life less harmed than it would have been if it all had become cow fodder. We have taken a short film of when they withdraw their leaves when touched if you would like to see what this looks like: Crater's Restaurant:
This restaurant is in central Phonsavan and is known because they have "decorated" the front with casings to bombs and missiles. This is of course a publicity stunt to attract customers. However, defused bombs are in this region used in various ways. The metal is precious and unexploded bombs contain enough metal to make it worth salvaging it.
This is all we had to say about our time in Laos. Hope you stay with us for the blog entry
Plain of Jars
The jars were part of the burial rituals of the people who lived in the area during the Iron Age.
which will be about Vietnam.
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