Archaeologists Discover Dozens of Mysterious Giant Stone Jars In India

Insert Archaeologists Discover Dozens of Mysterious Giant Stone Jars In India

Image: Thakuria et. al. 

Scientists have identified 65 previously-unknown giant sandstone jars in Assam, India—mysterious artifacts by unknown makers that researchers believe may have been used for burial rituals. 

Detailed in a paper in the peer-reviewed Journal of Asian Archeology in March, a team of researchers at North Eastern Hill University and Gauhati University in India and Australian National University located a series of sandstone structures clustered within four sites, some of which were partially buried, some of which were fully buried. 

The team uncovered them on a routine trip to survey three existing sites, at which point they found four new ones, Nicholas Skopal, PhD student at Australian National University and third author on the paper said in a press release published by the institution. “At the start the team just went in to survey three large sites that hadn’t been formally surveyed,” Skopal said. “This is when we first started finding new jar sites.  The team only searched a very limited area so there are likely to be a lot more out there, we just don’t yet know where they are.”

Their survey captured 742 jars in total, spread across a 300-square-kilometer area in Assam, the researchers note. The majority were found to be in poor condition, damaged by road cutting projects, forest growth and burning—some were decorated by stones, carvings, and engravings of male and female human figures, some shown standing holding weapons. They’re positioned on ridgelines and hill slopes, in keeping with previous jars that have been identified.

The jars mirror a series of similar structures in Laos and Indonesia that historians have tied to burial rituals. That’s Skopal and his team’s leading theory on what the recently-discovered jars could be, but without further excavation and direct dating, this theory remains unconfirmed. Local inhabitants suggested common engravings on the bulbs could be a tradition set to honor Rani Gaidinliu, a spiritual leader who led a revolt against British rule in India in the early 20th century, the paper notes.

“We still don’t know who made the giant jars or where they lived,” he said. “It’s all a bit of a mystery.”

The newly-discovered jar sites represent four of eleven known locations, the researchers note in their paper. Skopal and his team are confident that with more survey work, they’ll uncover more—a step to preserving what they believe are deeply-rooted cultural entities. 

“It is challenging to determine the exact purpose of the engraved stones, although circumstantial evidence indicates that they are associated with mortuary rituals or commemorative purposes,” the paper reads. 

But finding the jars, and quickly, is imperative. 

“The longer we take to find them, the greater chance that they will be destroyed, as more crops are planted in these areas and the forests are cut down,” Skopal said. 

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