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14 November 2003
"Plain of Jars" to be mapped by UNESCO

The United Nations have launched a project to map the location of "secondary burial" jars in northern Laos. The jars are scattered across the north of the country, in particular on the plateau to which they gave their name. Believed to number in the thousands, so far 300 have been documented.
     Some of the oldest relics in South-east Asia, the huge jars were used to store the bodies of the dead until the remains had decomposed, when they were removed and cleaned, then buried or cremated. Most of the jars sit on grassy knolls above villages and rice fields, with good views over the surrounding countryside. The jars remain largely unexplained, and archaeologists know little about the people who made them.
     The ancient jars have survived 2,000 years of exposure to the elements, looters and even bombs during America's "secret war" in the 1960s. Now they must survive against the tourists. Each year, several thousand people come to see the jars in this remote part of Laos.
     Sousath Phetrasy, a local tour guide who spent years clearing unexploded American ordnance from around many of the jars, persuaded the Communist government to open the area to foreigners, but even he has reservations now: "The jars are holy, but people climb on them. People want to damage them. We need to educate them and tell them how to behave."
     The head of the United Nations project, UNESCO archaeologist Richard Engelhardt, believes the Plain of Jars is "probably the most important Iron Age site in Southeast Asia."

Source: The Detroit News (13 November 2003)

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