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Another piece in plain of jars puzzle placed by Lao-Australian archaeological team

VIENTIANE, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Human remains dating between 2500-3000 years are among finds by Lao and Australian archaeologists operating in the historically significant yet long-puzzling plain of jars located in the South-East Asian nation of Laos.

The items were identified by scholars from the Australian National University and the Archaeology Division of the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism's Department of National Heritage while working on a site associated with the work of pioneering French archaeologist Madeleine Colani in the 1930s.

Skeletal remains of two individuals were reportedly located some 70 cm underground while the third was discovered some 13 metres away, evidencing complex burial procedures indicative of a unique cultural context that is still being pieced together in a region with millennia of complex migratory movements.

The project, entitled Unravelling the Mysteries of the Plain of Jars, Lao PDR, is a five year research endeavour funded by the Australian Research Council and led by the Australian National University in cooperation with the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism represented by Archaeology Division Director Dr Thonglith Luangkhoth.

The site is one of many clusters of up to several hundred stone jars scattered around the upland valleys and the lower foothills of the central plain of the Xieng Khuang plateau believed by scholars to reflect complex burial systems, but in local legend, for brewing potent rice whiskey.

The team utilised Ground Penetrating Radar to guide the excavation before unearthing the remains and relics.

Speaking to Xinhua, Project Chief Investigator Australian National University Senior Lecturer Dr Dougald O'Reilly described the sites as "one of the most important heritage assets in Laos."

"Our research, while in preliminary stages, has revealed a wide range of mortuary practices," Dr O'Reilly said.

"Such diversity of practice in disposal of the dead is uncommon in one culture... there may be several explanations for this diversity and we hope to establish why this is the case. "

"It is hoped that the knowledge gained from our research will be of assistance in seeing these sites nominated as UNESCO World Heritage."

Dr O'Reilly said archaeological work in Laos was complicated by geography, climate and the threat of unexploded ordnance (UXO) after U.S. military raids on Lao territory during the Vietnam War left wide swathes of the landscape of the heavily bombed province affected by tennis ball-sized cluster munitions that could explode if disturbed.

The archaeological dig and the wider Jar Site 1, located some 8 km from the centre of Xieng Khuang province's central Phonsavanh district, was previously cleared with the assistance of the Mine Action Group (MAG).

Meanwhile, a separate joint investigation by the Lao Archeology Division's experts and a team of researchers from National University of Laos and Australia's James Cook University has also been underway in the same province, identifying including fragments of porcelain and distinctive tobacco smoking pipes that illustrate trade and cultural relationships of the area of the landlocked country that has long been a crossroads between cultures.

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