AN ENORMOUS collection of giant ancient jars where people dumped corpses a thousand years ago has been found in Southeast Asia.
Scattered across eery forests and baking plains in Laos, the stash of more than 130 pots was likely used by remote tribes as part of ritualistic burials.
They were dragged several miles to the sites, despite weighing a few tonnes each – leaving experts scratching their heads over how the megaliths got there.
The so-called “Jars of the Dead” are among the world’s most baffling archaeological mysteries.
Thousands of the creepy urns have been found spread across the secluded mountains of northern Laos since French colonisers stumbled upon them in the 1930s.
Made of dense sandstone or granite, some reach a staggering three metres tall. Most date back to the Iron Age, between 500 BC and 500 AD.
Scientists still aren’t sure who built them, or precisely what they were used for, though skeletons at the sites suggest a link to burial rituals.
A team of Australian scientists have discovered 137 of the creepy jars at 15 new sites across Laos, shedding fresh light on their elusive origins.
The 1,000-year-old jars were somehow dragged miles to their eventual resting places from far-flung quarries.
But what’s befuddled scientists most is that there’s no evidence anyone lived nearby.
“It’s apparent the jars, some weighing several tonnes, were carved in quarries and somehow transported – often several kilometres – to their present locations,” said team member and Australian National University scientist Dr Dougald O’Reilly.
“But why these sites were chosen as the final resting place for the jars is still a mystery. On top of that we’ve got no evidence of occupation in this region.”
He added that the find shows ancient burial practices involving the jars were “more widespread than previously thought”.
In total, more than 100 sites housing Jars of the Dead have been found so far. They’re known collectively as the Plain of Jars.
The Jars of the Dead
Here’s everything you need to know…
- The Jars of the Dead is a collection of thousands of mysterious ancient jars discovered in the 1930s
- Over the past century, nearly one hundred sites have been found deep in the mountains of northern Laos, in Southeast Asia
- Each jar, some as high as three metres, weighs several tonnes
- The sandstone, granite and limestone used to make them was potentially dragged hundreds of miles
- Scientists aren’t sure what the jars, which date to between 500 BC and 500 AD, were built for
- The leading theory is that ancient tribes used to dump bodies in them as part of a traditional funeral
- A local legend says the jars were built by giants for victorious winemaking after a huge battle in the region 1,500 years ago
- One of the biggest collection of urns, the Plain of Jars, is soon to become a world heritage site
Urns are mostly arranged in clusters ranging in number from one to several hundred.
Scientists think the sites were ancient burial grounds used to dispose of ashes or corpses. Jars are thought to have been sealed with wooden or ratan lids, none of which survive today.
The new excavations revealed intricately carved discs, most likely burial markers, placed around the megaliths.
Dr O’Reilly said imagery on the discs included concentric circles, pommels, human figures and creatures.
“Decorative carving is relatively rare at the jar sites and we don’t know why some discs have animal imagery and others have geometric designs,” Dr O’Reilly said.
Typical Iron Age artefacts were also found with the burials, including ceramics, glass beads, iron tools and discs worn in the ears.
“Curiously we also found many miniature jars, which look just like the giant jars themselves but made of clay, so we’d love to know why these people represented the same jars in which they placed their dead, in miniature to be buried with their dead,” Dr O’Reilly said.
“We’ve seen similar megalithic jars in Assam in India and in Sulawesi in Indonesia so we’d like to investigate possible connections in prehistory between these disparate regions.”
Soon to become a World Heritage site, scientists plan to continue excavations to uncover all they can about the ancient people of Laos.
And while they’re convinced the jars are giant ancient urns, locals have a different idea.
Legend has it the jars were placed there by giants more than a thousand years ago.
The mystical folk used them for victorious winemaking after a huge battle in the region – though we certainly wouldn’t recommend drinking from one.
In other archaeology news, an ancient shaman’s bag holding cocaine and a pipe for smoking ‘psychedelic herbs’ was recently found in South America.
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And here’s a list of the bizarre ancient punishments that will make you squirm.
What do you think the jars were used for? Let us know in the comments!
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