Archaeologists have identified 65 large sandstone jars believed to be used for ritual burials across four sites in Assam, India, according to a new study published in the Journal of Asian Archaeology last week. They have yet to identify who made the vessels.
The research project—a joint effort between Australian National University (ANU), North-Eastern Hill University and Gauhati University, the latter two in India—started as a routine survey to explore three known sites. It wasn’t until the team worked with local communities to extend their survey to include a 300-square-kilometer area among dense forests in the surrounding region that they unearthed 742 total jars.
The majority were found in poor condition resulting from forest growth, burning, and local road-cutting projects. The vessels vary in shape, size, decoration, and condition. Of the more intricate, a few appear to be carved, decorated with stones, and engraved with human figures—some of whom are depicted holding weapons. While some of the jars are tall and cylindrical, others are partially or fully buried in the ground.
“We still don’t know who made the giant jars or where they lived,” ANU PhD student Nicholas Skopal said in a press release. According to the study, common engravings on the bulbs could be in honor of spiritual leader Rani Gaidinliu, who led a revolt against British rule in India in the early 20th century.
“There are stories from the Naga people, the current ethnic groups in north-east India, of finding the Assam jars filled with cremated remains, beads and other material artefacts,” Skopal said. “It seems as though there aren’t any living ethnic groups in India associated with the jars, which means there is an importance to maintain the cultural heritage.”
Further excavation and research of seven other known sites in the area will be necessary in determining the jars’ purpose as well as their makers.
In keeping with previously discovered vessels of this kind, primarily in Laos and Indonesia, the Assam artifacts were located along hills and ridge lines. Among the most well-known concentrations of this kind are 120 megalithic sites, called the Plain of Jars, on the Xiangkhoang Plateau in Laos, with jars made from local sandstone, granite, limestone, breccia, conglomerate, or boulders.