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The plain of jars of north Laos: Beyond Madeleine Colani

The plain of jars of north Laos: Beyond Madeleine Colani
Rosalia Genovese


Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, SOAS, University of London, London WC1H 0XG, UNITED KINGDOM.


The Plain of Jars is a series of archaeological sites located in the Xieng Khouang and Luang Prabang Provinces of north Laos, populated with megaliths attributed to the late Iron Age of Southeast Asia. The thesis combines the historical study of this area in relation to the colonial institutions in Laos from 1893 to the early 1940s, with my new mapping of the jar sites based on extensive original documentation. The historical focus is the French archaeologist Madeleine Colani (1866-1943), author of a two-volume monograph on the Plain of Jars (Mégalithes du Haut-Laos, 1935). The events leading up to the first archaeological mission to the Plain of Jars in May 1931, led by Colani under the auspices of the École Française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO), are analysed. Also addressed is academic interaction between Dutch researchers in Indonesia and their French counterparts in Indochina and how these exchanges led to the first Far-Eastern Prehistory Congress held in Hanoi in January 1932. Under-researched or undocumented aspects of jar form are discussed, together with a sequence of carving steps based on my observations at quarries and jar sites. An expanded site distribution is analysed in relation to sources of stone and historical routes. The thesis re-contextualizes Colani's work in her time and with new survey and production matter, redefines jar design and iconography, the spatial distribution of sites and their close relationship to the places and processes of manufacture. Regional comparisons are explored and discussed in relation to megaliths and material culture from archaeological sites in Mainland and Island Southeast Asia, and South Asia.