The U.S. Ambassador preserves the Plain of Jars
In the misty mountains of northeastern Laos lies a high plateau with a cool, dry climate unlike any other in Laos. The weather isn’t the only unique feature of Xieng Khouang; it is also the home of mysterious stone jars crafted by an ancient civilization for an unknown purpose.
First studied by Madeleine Colani in the 1930s, the secret origin of the jars remains a mystery. To this day the jars are scattered over multiple sites around the area and sizes and shapes vary from one-meter tubes to giant three-meter. Nearby Phou Keng seems to be the quarry site for most of the jars, but how they were carved and transported 10-20 km to their present locations? Visit Xieng Khouang and make your own conclusions.
While in 2019, the area did receive UNESCOWorld Heritage Site status and protection, decades of war and centuries of erosion have caused deterioration. Thankfully, help is on the horizon with support from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP), this important area will be conserved for generations to come.
On a recent visit to the Plain of Jars, U.S. Ambassador to Laos, Dr. Peter Haymond, officially announced the generous $129,000 grant at a ceremony, attended by Vice Governor of Xieng Khouang Province, Mr. Sivilay Sengchaleun; Vice Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Mr. Ounethouang Khaophanh; and representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other officials.
“I am happy to be part of the continued preservation of this impressive, historic site,” said Ambassador Haymond. “These megalithic jars are testimony to the rich cultural traditions in Laos, going back thousands of years. As we celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the U.S.-Lao Comprehensive Partnership, and the 20th anniversary of the AFCP program here in Laos, we remain committed to working with the Lao people and government in all aspects of cultural preservation and socio-economic development.”
The AFCP Plain of Jars grant project has three main components: the establishment of a database and GIS system to develop and maintain an inventory of jars and jar sites; conservation and restoration of damaged jars and lids; and capacity-building among local staff and authorities responsible for the World Heritage sites in the area.
With this support and preservation, these archeological sites will not be lost to the elements, nor time. Lao people and international travelers will be able to visit this legendary plateau, see the Plain of Jars, and perhaps fully unlock the mystery of their origin and purpose.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the AFCP program worldwide, as well as in the Lao PDR. The Ambassadors Fund supports projects around the world to preserve a wide range of cultural heritage in less developed countries, including historic buildings, archaeological sites, ethnographic objects, paintings, manuscripts, and indigenous languages and other forms of traditional cultural expression.
Lao Airlines has regular flights from Vientiane to Xieng Khouang.
Text BY Jason Rolan
PHOTOGRAPHS BY The Embassy of the United States in Vientiane and Phoonsab Thevongsa