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In Photos: Exploring the Mysterious Plain of Jars Site

Longstanding mystery

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: ANU)

The mysterious Plain of Jars is an archaeological site in central Laos that has thousands of stone vessels scattered across the ground. Archaeologists have also found many of these jars in forested and mountainous regions of Laos. They have long tried to figure out why the stone jars were littered across this remote part of Laos.

Archaeologists recently unearthed an ancient burial site and human remains at the Plain of Jars. The burial site is estimated to be 2,500 years old, and could help researchers glean new information about the mysterious site.

The researchers are also using data from the excavations and video from aerial drones to recreate the archaeological site in virtual reality. This means scientists can revisit and review their field work in Laos from more than 4,000 miles away, in Australia. [Read full story about the virtual reality project at the Plain of Jars]

Strange sight

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: ANU)

An aerial drone photograph of "Jar Site 1" in the Plain of Jars, located near Phonsavan in central Laos.

Uncovering the unknown

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: ANU)

The archaeologists from Laos and Australia spent four weeks in February 2016 mapping and excavating the ground around a group of the massive carved stone jars that dot the landscape at Jar Site 1.

Ancient burial practices

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: ANU)

Jar Site 1 is the best known of more than 85 ancient jar sites in the remote hills and valleys of the Xieng Khouang plateau in Laos.

The area was heavily bombed by American warplanes during the Vietnam War and only seven jar sites, including Site 1, have been cleared of undetonated bombs.

View from above

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: ANU)

An aerial drone photograph of stone jars and marker stones at Jar Site 1.

Expert eyes

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: Dougald O'Reilly, ANU)

Thonglith Luangkhoth, an archaeologist in Laos, inspects the primary burial site discovered at Jar Site 1.

Looking toward heaven

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: Dougald O'Reilly, ANU)

This is a view of the primary burial site discovered at Jar Site 1. The quartz-rich stone is aligned so the skull appears to look out through the hole.

Unique memorials?

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: Dougald O'Reilly, ANU)

The Jar Site 1 site, photographed from one of the excavation trenches.

Teamwork

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: Dougald O'Reilly, ANU)

Thonglith Luangkhoth (left) and Dougald O’Reilly (far right) excavating a secondary burial site. O'Reilly led a team of scientists on the joint Laos-Australian expedition to the Plain of Jars.

Burial jars

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: Dougald O'Reilly, ANU)

The researchers also uncovered 11 ceramic jars, which are expected to contain "secondary" burials of human bones from which the flesh was removed.Here, archaeologists at Jar Site 1 record details of the ceramic secondary burial jars.

Exploring an ancient civilization

plain of jars laos

(Image credit: Dougald O'Reilly, ANU)

Dougald O'Reilly, an archaeologist at the Australian National University, at Jar Site 1 in February 2016.