The Plain of Jars is an archaeological site in the Southeast Asian country of Laos. At the site, hundreds of large stone jars, ranging in size from one to three meters, are scattered across the countryside. These numerous large containers are around 2,000 years old. The original purpose of the jars is unknown, but archaeologists have several theories.
First, the jars may have been used for fermentation. In fermentation, food or drink is left in a sealed container in order to undergo a chemical change. According to some local residents, the jars were originally constructed by a king in order to ferment a special beverage to celebrate a great victory. It would be possible to use the jars for fermentation, so the local people’s story could be true.
Second, the jars may have been used for water storage. Laos experiences rainy and dry seasons, and finding water during the dry seasons can be difficult. The Plain of Jars is located near ancient trade routes, where traveling traders may have needed drinking water. The jars could have been constructed to collect water during the rainy season so that traders passing through the area would have a source of drinking water during the dry season.
Third, it is possible that the Plain of Jars was an ancient burial site, and the jars were tombs (places where human remains are deposited). Much of the contents of the ancient jars is now gone, but they are large enough to hold human remains. Furthermore, artifacts such as metal tools, jewelry, and glass beads have been found in some of the jars. Burying the dead alongside valuable artifacts was a common practice in ancient cultures. Ancient people may have buried their dead in the jars along with the artifacts.
Despite what you just read, the Plain of Jars is actually quite mysterious. The purpose of the jars is still uncertain.
First, the fermentation theory is probably not true. In Laos, pots that are traditionally used to ferment drinks are made of clay. You could use stone jars for fermentation too, but frankly, creating stone jars is difficult. Creating stone containers is much more time-consuming and expensive than making containers from clay. Why would ancient people have expended all these efforts on creating stone jars for fermentation when clay pots were easier to make and could have served the same purpose just as effectively?
Secondly, it’s unlikely that the jars were created for the purpose of storing water for travelers. Although the jars were located near ancient trade routes, these routes were also close to rivers and streams. People who were traveling near a river probably had no need for an additional source of freshwater. So it’s unlikely that the jars would have been used for this purpose.
Third, the large size of the jars and the presence of tools, beads, and jewelry in some jars suggests that the jars may have been used as tombs for burying human remains, but there is one serious problem with this theory. Tombs are usually covered in order to protect the human remains and artifacts that are buried alongside them from the weather, from thieves, and so on. But the stone jars found in the Plain of Jars do not have any covers. No one has found any type of cover either on the jars themselves or nearby. Without covers to protect human remains, it’s unlikely that the jars were used as tombs.