Drones used to study ancient quarries

Around 90 sites are spread across an area in the centre of the country which each contain between one and 400 of the vessels, some of which are up to 3m tall.

The purpose of the jars is still not known, nor who built them and where they lived.

The researchers have also been examining quarries approximately 8km away where it is believed the jars were fashioned from a type of local rock.

in the 1960s and 1970s, Laos was bombarded with cluster bombs as part of a US campaign to halt the spread of communism through Indochina.

Around 80 million undetonated explosives remain across the region and only a handful of the archaeological sites have been cleared of mines, bombs, and other unexploded ordnance.

The ABC’s Catalyst program reported the team from the Australian National University (ANU) and Monash University have had to use well-trodden paths or enlist locals to navigate them safely to sites of interest such as the quarries.

"The use of drones is critically important for us because we can look at even a cleared site," Dr Louise Shewan from Monash University told Catalyst.

{{image2-a:r-w:200}}"We can survey it with a drone, but often the adjacent quarry site isn't cleared [of explosives] so we can at least fly the drones over the quarry site and get an understanding of what's there."

Immersive visualisation

Drones were used to capture images of the sites that were then converted into a three-dimensional visualisation known as the Monash Immersive Visualisation Platform (MIVP) that the researchers could explore and carry out virtual fieldwork.

“We will utilise MIVP to investigate patterns in jar placement, examine how the megalithic jars might have been transported 8km from the quarry site to their final resting place, and look for evidence of residential occupation,” Dr Shewan said.

Earlier this year, the team unearthed an ancient burial ground at the Plain of Jars that contained human remains estimated to be 2500 years old.

"One theory is that [the jars] were used to decompose the bodies. Later, after the flesh was removed, the remains may have been buried around the jars,” Dr Dougald O'Reilly of the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology said.

"What is now clear is that these are mortuaries and were used for the disposal of the dead.”

The Catalyst episode on the Plain of Jars can be viewed at ABC iView.

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