Forest Full of Mysterious, Prehistoric Giant Jars Discovered

A forest full of mysterious, giant stone jars dating back thousands of years has been discovered in India. But what they were used for, why they were buried, and who made them is unknown.

Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) discovered the monolithic site in the Dima Hasao Province, Assam, India, during a survey of the region in 2020.

Strange, buried limestone jars were first found in Assam in the early 1900s, but they were not recorded systematically until the mid 2010s, researchers said in a study published in the journal Asian Archaeology.

Over the course of the 2020 survey, the team found four megalithic jar sites.

They had initially planned to examine the known jar sites in Assam, but as they started exploring the dense forest, they started uncovering more and more of these strange limestone jars.

stone jars assam
The stone jars found in the forest in Assam. Researchers think these jars are linked to similar ones found in Laos, around 500 miles away. Tilok Thakuria

Ancient giant stone jars have previously been found in other countries, including Indonesia and Laos.

The Assam site is thought to relate to the jar sites found in Laos, which sits about 500 miles to the south east and has been more extensively studied. In Laos, some of the jars are absolutely enormous, reaching 10 feet in height and 6.5 feet in width.

These have been found to contain cremated human remains, indicating they were probably created in relation to funerary practices.

Study author Nicholas Skopal told Newsweek that in Assam, they have "only scratched the surface" of the stone jar sites.

"We've started to find more," he said. "It's a lot of jungle and forest. We've literally only looked at one little area. There must be more, because every time we wander out, we find new sites."

Skopal said they think the sites in Laos and Assam are linked. They have not yet dated the jars in Assam, but those in Loas go back to around 1,000 BC, with other burials around the sites dating to around 1,000 AD.

stone jars
Nicholas Skopal, from ANU, surveying a stone jar site in Laos. The jars in this area are filled with cremated remains. Tilok Thakuria

They do not know if it is the same culture, or if new groups moved to the region, but there was activity around the site for at least 2,000 years.

They hope to date the Assam jars using a technique where sediment is removed and analyzed to see when sunlight last hit it. Once they know how old the Assam jars are, it should give an idea of whether this culture moved to Assam from Laos, or vice versa.

The jars have been open to the elements, and reports suggest that over the years people have removed the contents. Skopal said they hope to find jars in more remote regions that have not been interfered with.

This would allow for a better understanding of what the jars were used for and why. "At some you get larger jars, with these mini jars buried around them."

The jars, Skopal said, appear to have been carved from boulders. There is evidence of a quarry in Assam, but they may also have come from a creek bed or riverbed, where boulders would have been.

Grooves where an instrument was used to carve it can be seen inside the jars. "Then they had to transport it. It would have been hundreds of men pulling it, or putting it on a trolley."

The team now plans to return to Assam to find more jar sites before they are lost as forests are cleared for planting.

"Once the sites have been recorded, it becomes easier for the government to work with the local communities to protect and maintain them so they are not being destroyed," Skopal said in a statement.

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts