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25 January 2017
'Plain of Jars' Burial Site Recreated in VR

Archaeologists have recreated in virtual reality the ancient Plain of Jars burial site in Laos, combining aerial video with geophysical data and records of excavations into a record of the landscape and its hundreds of carved stone jars, some of which measure up to 3 metres tall and weigh many tons. The images and data have been integrated into a 3D video and data simulation at a room-sized, 360-degree VR facility at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, which is being developed for advanced applications in medicine, science and engineering.
     Monash University archaeologist and project co-leader Louise Shewan says the virtual landscape will also be used to explore other jar sites in rugged and forested territory, and in areas where many of the estimated 270 million cluster bombs dropped on Laos by the US Air Force during the Vietnam War make traditional archaeology too dangerous. To date, only seven of more than 85 known jar sites in Laos have been cleared, and an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs are scattered across the country.
     The simulation timeline can be stepped forward or back to show the state of the excavations at any time, and will be updated as the digs and discoveries continue. The images and data will also serve as a record of scholarship about the Plain of Jars in support of its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shewan hopes aerial footage of the site will be made available to the public, or integrated into a museum exhibition.
     Excavations at Site 1 in 2016 revealed the remains of dozens of people buried in communal and individual graves around some of the largest jars, indicating that an ancient burial practice was linked to them. The researchers think the carved stone jars at Site 1 are around 2,500 years old, and were used by an Iron Age civilization to expose their dead relatives to the elements for a period of time before the bones were cleaned and buried. Research on samples from the latest excavations includes efforts to determine the origin and age of some of the jars, and the identity of the jar makers, about whom almost nothing is known.

Edited from LiveScience (5 January 2017)

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