Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

How ancient megalithic jars connect Assam with Laos and Indonesia


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Megalithic Burials in India

Mains level : Not Much

The discovery of a number of megalithic stone jars in Assam’s Dima Hasao district has brought to focus possible links between India’s Northeast and Southeast Asia, dating back to the second millennium BC.

What is the news?

  • According to a study in Asian Archaeology, the jars are a “unique archaeological phenomenon”.
  • It calls for more research to understand the “likely cultural relationship” between Assam and Laos and Indonesia, the only two other sites where similar jars have been found.

About the Megalithic Jars

  • The jars of Assam were first sighted in 1929 by British civil servants James Philip Mills and John Henry Hutton.
  • They recorded their presence in six sites in Dima Hasao: Derebore (now Hojai Dobongling), Kobak, Kartong, Molongpa (now Melangpeuram), Ndunglo and Bolasan (now Nuchubunglo).
  • More such sites were later discovered in 2016 and 2020.
  • Researchers documented three distinct jar shapes (bulbous top with conical end; biconcial; cylindrical) on spurs, hill slopes and ridge lines.

Their significance

  • While the jars are yet to be scientifically dated, the researchers said links could be drawn with the stone jars found in Laos and Indonesia.
  • There are typological and morphological similarities between the jars found at all three sites.
  • Dating done at the Laos site suggests that jars were positioned at the sites as early as the late second millennium BC.
  • The other takeaway is the link to mortuary practices with human skeletal remains found inside and buried around the jars.
  • In Indonesia, the function of the jars remains unconfirmed, although some scholars suggest a similar mortuary role.

Back2Basics: Megalithic Burials in India

  • Megaliths were constructed either as burial sites or commemorative (non-sepulchral) memorials.
  • The former are sites with actual burial remains, such as dolmenoid cists (box-shaped stone burial chambers), cairn circles (stone circles with defined peripheries) and capstones (distinctive mushroom-shaped burial chambers found mainly in Kerala).
  • The urn or the sarcophagus containing the mortal remains was usually made of terracotta.
  • Non-sepulchral megaliths include memorial sites such as menhirs. (The line separating the two is a bit blurry, since remains have been discovered underneath otherwise non-sepulchral sites, and vice versa.)
  • Taken together, these monuments lend these disparate peoples the common traits of what we know as megalithic culture, one which lasted from the Neolithic Stone Age to the early Historical Period (2500 BC to AD 200) across the world.
  • In India, archaeologists trace the majority of the megaliths to the Iron Age (1500 BC to 500 BC), though some sites precede the Iron Age, extending up to 2000 BC.


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