In the mountains of northern Laos in Xieng Khouang province, are scattered thousands of giant stone jars each weighing several tons. The jars appear in clusters ranging from a single jar to several hundred, on the lower foothills surrounding the central plain and upland valleys. There is an estimated 3,000 jars scattered across 90 sites in Xieng Khouang province. Each jar is up to 3 meters tall and all are hewn out of rock, often sandstone, but also of harder granite and limestone. Some jars are decorated with bas relief on the exterior. The Plain of Jars is believed to be 2,000 years old and is one of the most important archaeological site of Southeast Asia.
The existence of lip rims on the jars suggest they had once supported lids, and therefore used for storage. Speculations about usage range from the obvious such as storing and fermenting rice wine, or collecting rain water during the monsoon season, to the bizarre, such as distillation of the dead bodies. The discovery of human remains such as bones and teeth, burial goods and ceramics around the stone jars seems to indicate that these relics were associated with prehistoric burial practices.
The site was discovered during the 1930s by a French archaeologist, but war and politics prevented further excavation around the jars until 1994. During the Vietnam War many of the jars were damaged by U.S bombing, and there are still thousands of tons of unexploded ordance from the war in the vicinity making excavation a slow and dangerous process.
From 1964 to 1973, US forces flew 580,944 bombing missions over Laos, dropping more than two million tons of munitions. On a per capita basis this makes Laos the most heavily bombed country on Earth, and Xieng Khouang province, where the plain lies, was the second most-targeted area, with more than 63,000 sorties. An estimated 30 per cent of the bombs failed to explode on impact. Every week people are being killed and injured when they set them off.
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