Ancient burial ground discovered at the Plain of Jars

March 24, 2016
Ancient burial ground discovered at the Plain of Jars
Researchers at the Laos site

Researchers are a step closer to unravelling one of the great prehistoric puzzles of South East Asia, after discovering an ancient burial ground, including human remains, at the Plain of Jars in central Laos.

The discoveries were made during excavations conducted in February 2016 and led by a team of Australian and Lao researchers including Dr Louise Shewan from the Monash Warwick Alliance and Centre for Archaeology and Ancient History, Dr Dougald O'Reilly from the Australian National University and Dr Thonglith Luangkhoth of the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

The field work is part of a five-year project, funded by the Australian Research Council, aimed at uncovering the mysteries surrounding the 90-plus jar sites, including who made the jars, what they were used for and how the sites came into existence.

The sites, located in the central Lao province of Xieng Khouang, comprise large carved stone jars of varying sizes – some as big as two metres in diameter and three metres high. Initially brought to the attention of science by French researcher Madeleine Colani in the 1930s, the sites have remained largely unstudied due to the huge quantity of unexploded bombs in the area - the result of heavy bombing during the 'Secret War' in Laos in the 1970s.

The recent excavations – the first major excavations in nearly two decades - uncovered an ancient burial ground in an area known as 'Site 1', and revealed various burial methods including the internment of whole bodies, the burying of bundled bones and bundled bones placed inside ceramic vessels and then buried.

Dr Shewan, who is analysing teeth found at the , says the project has the potential to ascertain who these people were and where they lived.

"My research involves the measurement of strontium isotopes in human dental enamel to shed light on the home environment of the individual," Dr Shewan says. "Teeth mineralise at different ages, so by analsying different teeth we are able to ascertain where an individual lived during their childhood."

The results of the project will be showcased in the CAVE2 facility with support from the Monash Immersive Visualisation Platform.

"To visualise all our research findings, including excavation data, remote sensing data and drone imagery in the CAVE2 environment is going to greatly assist our analysis and interpretation and provides a unique opportunity to conduct 'virtual fieldwork' in areas that are inaccessible by foot. From the drone imagery we may also be able to identify potential occupation areas. At present there are no known occupation sites. No one knows where these people lived," Dr Shewan said.

Explore further: Excavation reveals ancient town and burial complex in Diros Bay, Greece

Related Stories

Archaeologists rewrite history of the Trefael Stone

April 13, 2012

The Trefael Stone, a scheduled ancient monument in south-west Wales originally thought to be an ancient standing stone is actually the capstone of a 5,500-year-old tomb, according to new research from an archaeologist at ...

Clues to Southeast Asian civilisation unearthed

May 1, 2013

( —An archaeological dig led by Dr Marc Oxenham from The Australian National University's School of Archaeology and Anthropology has uncovered possibly the earliest cemetery site in Southeast Asia.

Invaluable ancient Syrian mosaic discovered

November 2, 2015

Classical scholars from Münster are excavating one of the few sites of ancient Roman Syria in Turkey that are currently accessible as a result of the political situation in the Middle East.

Light cast on lifestyle and diet of first New Zealanders

May 16, 2013

( —A University of Otago-led multidisciplinary team of scientists have shed new light on the diet, lifestyles and movements of the first New Zealanders by analysing isotopes from their bones and teeth.

Recommended for you

Important ancient papyrus seized from looters in Israel

October 27, 2016

(—Eitan Klein, a representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has announced that an important papyrus document dated to 2,700 years ago has been seized from a group of Palestinian looters who reportedly ...

Ancient parrot fossil found in Siberia

October 26, 2016

(—A Russian paleontologist has discovered a parrot fossil uncovered in Siberia several years ago—the first evidence of parrots living in Asia. In his paper published in Biology Letters, Nikita Zelenkov describes ...

Ancient burials suggestive of blood feuds

October 24, 2016

There is significant variation in how different cultures over time have dealt with the dead. Yet, at a very basic level, funerals in the Sonoran Desert thousands of years ago were similar to what they are today. Bodies of ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.