Monday, May 10, 2010

Burial jars

The main ledge at Peang Boran has five large burial jars still in place, believed to be 500 years old
Call them what you will - burial jars, body jars, funerary jars - the clay and earthenware jars that were the focus of our expedition by moto in Chi Phat are still something of a unique mystery waiting to be solved though experts already know that several of these sites exist in the Cardamom region and the one we visited at Peang Boran is probably the easiest one to gain access to. The skulls and bones found in the jars, alongwith glass beads and copper ornaments, have been carbon-dated to around 500 years old and come from the mountain tribes that used to live in the area at that time. Fanciful stories abound that the remains belong to Khmer Loeu heroes and royalty but other artifacts that would support such theories have long been looted and removed from the sites. Much more work is needed before the origin of the jars and their contents can be determined with certainty. A National Geographic television documentary, Riddles of the Dead, exposed the existence of these jars to a wider audience a few years ago. At Peang Boran we also found some tiny wooden coffins on a rock shelf, both the wooden coffins and the burial jars were on natural ledges in the rockface that required wooden ladders to get close to them. Behind the coffins was a very dark cave full of bats and the overwhelming stench of their guano.
A secondary rock ledge nearby has three jars containing human remains
Just a few metres along the rockface was this ledge with roughly-hewn wooden coffins

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

These Peang Boran look like the Giant jars in Laos.

May 15, 2010 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Nancy Beavan Athfield said...

Hi Andy: Chi Phat Community -based Ecotourism Programme (CEBET) may have mentioned that I was at the jar burial site in Janiuary to do the first systematic study of one of these sites. We spent 10 days sampling bone from the jars and wood from the coffins for radiocarbon dating and isotope analysis to learn more about the time range of this site and whether the people were residents of the mountains or had come up from the lowlands. We also had an aim to preserve the site as much as possible; therefore we did take down the jars, photograph each of them, sampled their contents and did skeletal analysis, and did the same examination and sampling of the coffins and their contents, then put everything back in place as we found it. The 14C dating and other scientific analysis is now underway. The ages of "500 years" that are usually qouted came from radiocarbon work that I had done on a jar burial site in the mountains in Kampong Speau province way back in 2003. The calendar age range of that site is as early as 1450 AD to as late as 1630AD. I am now submitting proposals for additional funding to go back to new sites in January of 2011, and will be back in Chi Phat in July of this year to donate an exhibit of our work at Peang Boran to the CBET Visitor Centre.

Your readers can also listen to a short radio programme that was made by Brian Calvert for Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "Dispatches" programme during our January fieldwork.

The link for the radio programme is

and then you must scroll down to "March 4/7th, 2010," then scroll down further to "Jars in the Jungle."

Maybe we'll catch up in Phnom Penh in July!


May 19, 2010 at 4:28 AM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Thanks for the update Nancy. And good luck with your continuing work on this slice of Cambodian history.

May 19, 2010 at 9:11 AM  

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