The stone pots are 1 to 3 meters (about 3.2 to 9.8 feet) high, according to study co-author Nicholas Skopal, a doctoral student at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Some of the pots feature decorative carvings, while others are simple, he said. About 65 pots have been discovered so far, but many more could be hiding under the ground, according to Skopal.
Researchers have yet to unravel the mystery of how these jars were made and the civilization that used them, he said.
A handful of sites in the area with the same stone jars were discovered by the British in the 1920s, and prior to the 2020 Skopal excavations there were seven known sites. His team was analyzing jars found at three of the locations.
While exploring the surroundings, they came across four previously unknown sites with partially exposed jars, which was a pleasant surprise, Skopal said.
“By getting out, surveying and documenting them properly, government and universities can better manage their heritage and preserve these jars for future generations,” Skopal said.
A story of looters
By the time the search team found the exposed jars, most of their contents were long gone, Skopal said.
There are oral historical accounts of the Naga, local villagers, pulling beads and other objects from the jars, he said. Although it’s unclear exactly when the beads were removed, since some locals still have them as a family heirloom, it’s likely they dug up the jars not too long ago, Skopal added.
“In one of the villages where we are staying, one of the elderly ladies actually showed me (jewelry) that had been taken out of the jar,” he said.
Similar jars have been discovered in Laos, and researchers there have been lucky enough to find jars still intact with artifacts like beads and human remains inside, Skopal said. He hopes his team will eventually find unopened jars at the new sites in Assam to study the culture they came from.
“Some of the people buried might still have things inside, but we haven’t excavated yet,” he said.
An unsolved mystery
It is difficult to date the creation of these jars, so researchers are not yet able to determine which civilization made the stone jars, Skopal said.
Early estimates date the artifacts to 400 BC or earlier, according to the study’s lead author Tilok Thakuria, an assistant professor in the Department of History and Archeology at North-Eastern Hill University’s Tura Campus in Meghalaya, India.
Defining the time period during which these jars were created is the team’s next priority, Skopal said.
The date would match when the jars were buried, giving researchers a much better idea of when the jars were made.
Digging up unopened jars will also be a big help in dating the stone pieces, according to Thakuria.
“We need an excavation plan in Assam to recover the material culture and reconstruct the social and cultural behavior of these groups of people,” he said.