Jars with human remains discovered at mysterious site in India

No one knows when or why these huge bowls were hewn, but local legends say that they contained jewelry and human remains.

University of Canberra (photo credit: 1717 AT EN.WIKIPEDIA/PUBLIC DOMAIN/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
University of Canberra

Dozens of large stone bowls were recently discovered in Assam, India in four different locations, according to a study in Asian Archeology. The bowls (or jars) are made of a large stone that was used to build a structure or monument, alone or together with other stones. All of the stones found were between one and three feet high and some included carved decorations while others were simple, according to study editor Nicholas Skopal, a doctoral candidate from the National University of Canberra, Australia.

65 bowls have been discovered so far at the site, and many more may have been buried underground. It is not yet clear when they were created and what civilization used them. Prior to a discovery in 2020, huge bowls of this type were found in seven places, with British researchers discovering some of them in the Assam area as early as 1920. When researchers searched areas where bowls had already been found, four new places with bowls that were semi-visible were discovered.

Skopal told CNN: "By going out, surveying and documenting them properly, the government and universities can manage their heritage a lot better and preserve these jars for future generations."

When the research team found the bowls, many of them and the details within them had already disappeared. According to stories passed down from generation to generation among the locals, the Naga people who lived in the area removed items and necklaces from the bowls, and they became part of the family legacies. "In one of the villages we're staying in, one of the elderly ladies actually showed me (some jewelry) that had been pulled out of the jar," Skopal told CNN.

In Laos, similar types of jars have been found in the past with artifacts still inside them like beads, as well as human remains. It is estimated that jars in Laos unveiled in 2016 were placed in Xieng Khouang province at least 2,000 years ago.

Researchers then discovered three different types of burial methods: bones placed in pits with a large lump of limestone on top, bones buried in ceramic vessels and a single body in a grave.

"The size and structure of the jars found in Assam and Laos are very similar. However, there are some differences in shape and size. Those in Assam are more bulbous, while those in Laos are more cylindrical," Skopal said.

The most recently discovered bowls differ from each other in shape and size. Some are tall and cylindrical, while others are buried partially or fully in the ground. Skopal hopes his team will soon find some jars that have not yet been found at the new Assam sites. "In some of the buried bowls, there may still be things inside. We have not yet dug to find out," he said.

To understand when the artifacts were buried, Skopal's team intends to use a special dating method that involves taking a precipitation sample from directly under the jar, to determine when the light last hit it.

The date will reveal when the jars were buried, which will help archaeologists better understand exactly when and by whom the jars were created.