Sydney / AFP
Archaeologists have uncovered ancient human remains and various burial practices at the mysterious Plain of Jars in Laos, Australian researchers said, as scientists attempt to unravel the puzzle of the stone vessels.
The Plain of Jars in Laosâ€™ central Xieng Khouang province is scattered with thousands of stone jars and scientists have long been perplexed by their original use.
â€œThis will be the first major effort since the 1930s to attempt to understand the purpose of the jars and who created them,â€ Dougald Oâ€™Reilly from the Australian National Universityâ€™s school of archaeology said in a statement.
He said excavations uncovered three types of burials at the site. In one practice, bones were buried in pits with a large limestone block placed over them, while other bones were found buried in ceramic vessels, separate from the jars.
The researchers also found for the first time an instance of a body being placed in a grave.
Oâ€™Reilly said while the jars were empty now, it is possible they were once used to hold bodies until the flesh had completely decomposed so the bones could then be buried.
â€œWe donâ€™t have any evidence for cremation which is something that has been suggested in the past,â€ said Oâ€™Reilly, adding that it was also unclear where those buried had lived.
Despite the finds, he said the original purpose of the jars remains unknown.
â€œThe stone jars remain a mystery as to what they were used for,â€ Oâ€™Reilly said.
Only a few simple objects, such as a handful of glass beads, have been found with the human remains at the burial sites, which are thought to date from about 500 or 600 BC to 550 AD.
A joint Australia-Laos research team spent one month collecting data at the site and Oâ€™Reilly said he hoped a better archaeological understanding of the Plain of Jars would help with a bid to have it listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
About 90 sites make up the intriguing area in the Southeast Asian nation, with the carved jars ranging in size from one to three metres tall (three to 10 feet).
The excavations were conducted in February in conjunction with the Laos Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and Melbourneâ€™s Monash University as part of a five-year project.