Laos is one of the world’s forgotten countries. Tucked away in South East Asia, few people know anything about her. It’s a powerless nation dominated by Vietnam and China since the 1970s. Those who visit Laos often make note of how much influence Beijing has, with Chinese businesses propping up it’s economy and the Chinese military patrolling it’s streets. They say it’s like Laos is becoming a province of China – but criticize the Chinese presence and you might be thrown in jail. Those who can point out Laos on a map often know little more about the country that this. And that’s a shame because Laos is home to one of the ancient world’s most mysterious relics, one that some believe is evidence that giants once roamed the Earth.
In a mountainous area of northern Laos are thousands of stone jars. The area has a simple name: the plain of jars. Some jars are tiny and some are enormous. Some stand on their own while others are in clusters. It looks like they have been randomly scattered through the area… and they might have been. It’s unknown who built the jars or for what purpose, and we might never have answers. Unexploded bombs and land mines make much of the region inaccessible. Laos was massively bombed during the vietnam war. It was to stop the North Vietnamese from operating within Laos. It failed to prevent this but still two million tonnes of explosives were dropped on the country – that’s equal to a plane load of bombs being dropped every eight minutes, all day and all night for 9 years.
Many of the jars were destroyed by western bombs, but thousands still remain intact today. The plain of jars was examined in the 1930s when Laos was part of the French empire. French explorers could study all the jars without fear of triggering land mines. They thought the plain of jars was just an unusual burial ground, with corpses being cremated inside nearby caves and the ashes sealed inside a jar. But locals explained the jar’s origins with various legends – some believing that an insane ancient kind had them built as prisons, and anyone to defy him would be sealed inside them to die of starvation. They say the smaller jars were for when he ordered the deaths of children. But one day the kings own people overthrew him as they realized he was insane and simply killing his subjects at random. They threw him into the largest stone jar and sealed him inside to die slowly.
After his slow death they destroyed any sign of him ever being king, which is why history doesn’t remember his name. Only the jars remain as relics to his rule. Human remains have been founf within some of the jars, causing some to wonder if the old story of the insane king was true.
Another story told that the corpses of ancient people believed by others to be cursed were sealed inside the jars – possible people who were sacrificed for the good of the community. But the most interesting legend has nothing to do with sacrifices or human remains. It also has nothing to do with porky pig or the queen of Denmark, just in case you were wondering. It instead tells that giants once walked the earth – but the only evidence of their existence are these jars they drank from, hence the size of them. One day, humans gathered into large groups and hunted the giants to extinction by chasing them off the edge of a cliff.
The jars were built in the Iron age but with much of the area yet to be excavated no one knows who built them or for what purpose. I met a giant once. She was about seven foot tall – but even she isn’t big enough to lift the stone jars. So who knows what their origin is. The plain of jars remains among the greatest mysteries of this world, one that will likely never be solved.