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The mysterious ‘Plain of Jars’ in Laos remains one of the enigmatic ancient sites in the world – but researchers are now beginning to unlock some of its secrets.

The thousands of strange stone jars found in the mountains and plains of upper Laos – recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage protected site – have been found to likely be around 2500 years old. But little else is known about the culture that created them, as they are the only remaining relics of the society.

However, recent research has found that the jars, weighing up to 20 tonnes each, were transported from quarries up to 10 kilometres away – though the mode of transport remains a mystery. And adding to the enigma of the site is the fact that there is a group of extremely similar jar sites over 1200 kilometres away in Northeast India.

Archaeologist Dr Louise Shewan leads a team that has been studying the Lao megalithic jar sites since 2016. Earlier this year, members of the team found 15 new sites containing more than 100 jars.

“The sites are mesmerising,” Dr Shewan says.

“In 2017, we conducted research at a remote mountainous site that was especially mystical, heavily vegetated and cloaked in mist.”

Only a small number of the more than 100 known jar sites have been studied in depth. Some are inaccessible due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from the Vietnam war era.

A clearing program is steadily opening up more sites, allowing the archaeologists to start building a picture of the people and society that created them.

The team are also using drones to take photographs and video footage of the sites to create 3D models – and may uncover even more sites by using the drones to search beneath the forest canopy using LIDAR.

And they hope to understand better the link between the Plain of Jars in Laos and the similar sites in Northeast India. “The Assam sites are now gaining renewed interest given identified linguistic and genetic connections between Southeast Asia and Northeast India, and we hope to more fully explore these sites and the links between them in collaboration with our colleagues in India in the near future,” says Dr Shewan.

Read more: Saving the secrets of the Jars of Laos

(Picture credit: Plain of Jars Research Project)