Northeast Laos is home to one of the world’s most wondrous archaeological sites: the Plain of Jars. The awe-inspiring site is littered with thousands of enormous 2,000-year-old stone jars nestled among unexploded Vietnam-era bombs. The site largely remained a mystery because of the challenge of working in such dangerous territory. But with the help of drones, archaeologists and curious civilians can now get a closer look.
Riddling the countryside, many of these bombs remain a threat more than 40 years after the United States dropped them across Laos. Not only do they pose a threat for Laotian farmers but the bombs have largely deterred archaeologists from studying the curious jugs. The Laotian government and Unesco have been working on safely clearing the bombs for years, but the care required makes it a slow process, Michele Lent Hirsch writes for Smithsonian.com.
The new footage explores just a few of the many clusters of these giant stone jars, which are scattered across the hills and valleys near the city of Phonsavan. People standing near the monuments give a sense of scale for the jugs, which can be up to 10 feet tall and weigh several tons.
Paths cleared of bombs can be seen in the video, trailing alongside craters and trenches—remnants of past explosions. Yet the drone allows scientists to explore the jars off of this path, in regions not yet cleared of explosives, Hugh Morris writes for The Telegraph.
“De-mining activities still continue today, and in fact during one of the flights there was a team within earshot blowing up an uncovered bomb,” YouTube user seaarch, who uploaded the footage, writes in the video’s description.
There is much to learn about the massive jars. Most of them are unadorned, but a few feature carvings of human and animal figures, according to Unesco. Although similar megalithic structures have been discovered in parts of India, it’s still unclear what ancient civilization built the giant jars in Laos, Hirsch writes.
There is also uncertainty as to their purpose. The few studies published suggest that they were used in funeral rites. Based on their enormous size and the discovery of human remains and burial artifacts inside some jars, it’s possible that they were used to store decomposing bodies.
Recently, Unesco classified the Plain of Jars as an "important but imperiled" site, tentatively listed for inclusion as a World Heritage Site, pending further removal of the abundant bombs.