The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos. It consists of thousands of stone jars scattered around the upland valleys and the lower foothills of the central plain of the Xiangkhoang Plateau. The jars are mostly arranged in clusters ranging in number from one to several hundred.
The Xieng Khouang Plateau is located at the northern end of the Annamese Cordillera, the principal mountain range of Indochina. French researcher Madeleine Colani concluded in 1930 that the jars were associated with prehistoric burial practices. Excavation by Lao and Japanese archaeologists in the intervening years has supported this interpretation with the discovery of human remains, burial goods and ceramics around the jars. The Plain of Jars is dated to the Iron Age (500 BC to AD 500) and is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Southeast Asia.
Lao legends tell of a race of giants who inhabited the area and who were ruled by a king, named Khun Cheung, who fought a long and ultimately victorious battle against an enemy. He supposedly created the jars to brew and store huge amounts of lau hai (“lau” means “alcohol”, “hai” means “jar”—So “lau hai” means rice beer or rice wine in the jars) to celebrate his victory. Another local story states that the jars were molded from natural materials including clay, sand, sugar, and animal products in a type of stone mix. This led the locals to believe the cave at Site 1 was actually a kiln, and that the jars were fired there and are not actually hewn from stone.
Another suggested explanation for the jars’ use is to collect monsoon rainwater for caravan travelers along their journey at times when rain may have been seasonal and water was not readily available on the easiest footpaths. Rainwater would then be boiled, even if stagnant, to become potable again, a practice long understood in Eastern Eurasia. The trade caravans that camped around these jars could have placed beads inside them as offerings, accompanying prayers for rain. Or the beads might simply have been unassociated lost items.