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Lao-UNESCO Programme to Safeguard the Plain of Jars

Lao-UNESCO Programme to Safeguard the Plain of Jars

In 1998, Xieng Khouang ProvinceUNESCO and the Government of Lao PDR initiated a multi-year phased programme to safeguard and develop the Plain of Jars. The goal of this Lao-UNESCO Programme for Safeguarding the Plain of Jars is to put mechanisms in place that ensure ongoing protection of the heritage resourceslinked to bringing socio-economic benefits for the local communities.

Supported by New Zealand Aid Programme (NZAID), the Lao-UNESCO initiative arose following the Laotian government’s expressed commitment to protect and develop the vast historical and archaeological landscape of the Plain of Jars and nominate the site for World Heritage inscription. It received widespread international attention following a visit by the former Director-General of UNESCO, who personally pledged UNESCO support for the protection and development of the site. Image result for NZAID

The Plain of Jars Archaeological Landscape

The landscape of the Xieng Khouang plateau is dotted throughout with thousands of stone jars, in clusters from one to over a hundred jars. Initial study of the Plain of Jars by French archaeologist Madeleine Colani in the 1930's suggested that the stone jars are associated with the burial practices of the protohistoric communities living in the area. Excavation by Lao and Japanese archaeologists in the intervening years has supported this interpretation with the discovery of human remains, burial goods and ceramics dated, by comparative material from Dong Son in Viet Nam, to the Early Iron Age from approximately 500 BCE to 800 CE. Some sites contain more than 250 individual jars. The tallest jars are more than 3 meters in height and while most are undecorated, a few have carved human figures or faces. Circular stone discs found near the jars, and presumed to be lids, are also sometimes carved with representations of humans, tigers or monkeys.

The artifacts from the Plain of Jars constitute an exceptional collection for the study of the late prehistory of mainland Southeast Asia. The jars' striking and enigmatic presence has given to the Xieng Khouang Plateau the name The Plain of Jars; little is yet known for certain about the people and culture which produced them. 



The Xieng Khouang Plateau was subjected to intense carpet bombing during the regional conflict in Indochina of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world. During the bombing, many jar field sites, particularly those in prominent exposed locations, were extensively damaged. Un-detonated bombs, land mines and other unexploded military ordnance still contaminate more than 25% of the province's total land area and continue to threaten the lives of the 200,000 people who now live in Xieng Khouang. This ordnance remains a constant threat to personal safety and a serious impediment to the socio-economic development of the region.

However, there has been very strong growth in the Lao tourism sector since 1990. Tourism is now a major contributor to national income and employment. The major tourism activities in the province now include the exploration of jar sites as well as visits to both local ethnic minority villages and historic sites associated with the Indochina wars. 

For much of the last century, archaeological research and conservation in the Plain of Jars was difficult to carry out. The cessation of conflict and the opening up of the country to the outside world has revealed the great importance of the site as well as the problems it faces, including:

  • Lack of documentation and national expertise;
  • Infestation with Unexploded Ordnance (UXO);
  • Increasing threats of looting and inappropriate development;
  • Underdeveloped national and local capacity to undertake the required technical and managerial work to safeguard the site.


Main Activities

UXO clearance and erosion control: Create a safe  and stable environment for local communities and visitors

The project team worked closely with the village communities and train villagers to identify problems, set priorities, raise awareness and evaluate the impact and success of the clearance operations.

Research: A suite of site interpretation programmes

Previous surveying and research has resulted in a large amount of data and information and preliminary assumptions about the history of the Plain of Jars. These findings were finalized and consolidated as detailed documentation and reports on the interpretation and significance of the Plain of Jars are required for the World Heritage nomination.

Community-Based Heritage Tourism products and associated livelihood development activities sustainably managed by indigenous communities

Ongoing training and skill transfer, using the step-by-step Community-Based Heritage Tourism development methodology, built local capacity to develop tours and other activities for tourists and were managed by public-private sector partnerships.

Jar Sites Management and Conservation 

The project raised awareness and build capacity within all levels of authority, in particular at the local community level, to monitor and protect heritage resources within their jurisdiction and request assistance from higher level authorities when required.

Tourism and Heritage Management: Capacity within provincial authorities to oversee province-wide tourism operations in Xieng Khouang

Tourism awareness seminars provided the local authorities with an overview of the tourism industry and an update on the national tourism laws and regulations.

Provincial Heritage Guides: Provincial guide service unit with certified guides 

The project conducted additional town-based guide and English language training training for the nationally-certified and provincially-registered guides based in Phonsavanh town.

Socio-economic and cultural and natural heritage  impacts: A monitoring system including protocols for the mitigation of current and emerging threats.

In order to train guides and the local authorities in the use of the protocol, monitoring workshops were held during the second and third year of the project.

Reinvestment in site management: Mechanism to funnel part of the income generated through heritage tourism back into heritage management. 

The project, in close collaboration with the Provincial authorities, established a Provincial Heritage Fund to collect part of the income generated through tourism which can be tapped into to finance site management and therefore ensure the sustainability of heritage management operations.

World Heritage nomination of the Plain of Jars Archaeological Landscape

A World Heritage Nomination Dossier Drafting Committee was established to prepare the World Heritage Nomination Dossier that were modeled after the acclaimed nomination dossier for Vat Phou (inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2001).


Project Team

  • Mr. Heng Daovannary, Secretary General, Lao National Commissions for UNESCO
  • Mr. Samlane Luangaphay, Archaeologist, Ministry of Information and Culture
  • Mr. Bounpheng Souliyanonh, National Project Manager & Heritage Tourism Advisor, Lao National Tourism Administration
  • Mr. Khamman Phimmasan, Head of Heritage House, Xieng Khouang, Department of Information and Culture
  • Mr. Khamleune, Officer of Department of Information and Culture
  • Ms. Julie Van Den Bergh, UNESCO Archaeologist & Chief Technical Advisor
  • Mr. Steven Schipani, Senior Eco-tourism Advisor, Lao National Tourism Administration
  • Mr. Wilfred Kubriske, MAG International Technical Field Manager
  • Mr. Sayavong Phienthaouton, MAG Community Liaison Officer

Committee of Village Representatives

  • Ban Haihin: Mr. Chansome, village representative for Lao Front & Mr. Yongthongyam, chief of hamlet
  • Ban Nakhong: Mr. Khampay Thengdavan, deputy chief of village & Mrs. Bouakham Pilavong, deputy chief of Lao Woman Union of the village
  • Ban Xiengdi: Mr. Sovat Chanthavong, Party Member of village & Mrs. Tui Bouapavan, culture representative of village
  • Ban Nam Hom: Mr. Siengbounthan, culture representative of village & Mr. Boualoy, village security
  • Ban Phai: Mr. Bounthan Potitvan, chief of the village & Mr. Voun, deputy chief of village security
  • Ban Pakeo: Mr. Wah Longwah, village security & Mr. Wengloh, deputy chief of village
  • Ban Nasaotong, Khum  Songhat: Mr. Vanthong, deputy chief of village & Mrs. Chanthong, deputy chief of Lao Woman Union of village

National Project Supervisory Committee

  • Mr. Heng Daovannary, Secretary-General, Lao National Commission for UNESCO (NatCom), Chair
  • Ms. Lynn de Silva, NZAID Representative Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Member
  • Mr. Richard Engelhardt, Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific, UNESCO Bangkok, Member
  • Ms. Jo Durham, Country Programme Manager, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Member
  • Mr. Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy, Director-General, Dept of Museums and Archaeology, Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC), Member
  • Mr. Ounthouang Kaupan, Director General, Tourism and Hotel Management Department, National Tourism Authority (NTA), Member
  • Ambassador Maligna Saignavongs, Director, National Regulatory Authority for UXO Clearance (NRA), Member
  • Mr. Viengthanom Phumanyan, Governor of Xieng Khouang Province, Member
  • Mr. Bounsom Thepavong, Representative of the Lao Front For National Construction, Member

Xieng Khouang Heritage Steering Committe
Xieng Khouang Heritage Steering Committee (XKHSC) was set up by Decree of the Governor of Xieng Khouang (No. 89/XK) as a forum to conserve the Plain of Jars. The Heritage Steering Committee has the following aims and duties:

  1. To provide coordination with provincial, national and international bodies
  2. To research and investigate heritage in the province and plan for its preservation
  3. To oversee conservation areas
  4. To pursue education programmes regarding heritage preservation T
  5. To provide guidelines and support the sub-committee set up to implement committee decisions 

Members of the Steering Committee include:

  • Vice Governor; Mr.Khamsouk Sayasone
  • Head of Department of Information and Culture, Xieng Khouang; Mr. Somphone Philivong            
  • Head of the Provincial Tourism Office; Mr. Khampet Phommadouangkaisone
  • Eight district chiefs
  • Deputy Head of Communication, Transport, Post and Construction Service (CTPC); Mr. Khamsone Chanhthavong
  • Cabinet Deputy of the Governors Office; Mr. Bounhom Thepthani
  • President of Provincial Buddhist Fellowship Organization Phra Achanh Khamdy

Members of the Subcommittee include:

  • Deputy head of the National Construction Front; Dr. Mahasom
  • Deputy head of the Agriculture and Forestry department; Mr. Khamsy Chanthavong
  • Deputy head of department of Education; Mr. Boualy Phannavong
  • Deputy head of the Provincial Tourism Office; Mr. Sivilay Oudomsouk
  • Secretary of Youth Division; Mr. Bounleune Vannasak
  • Head of the Economic Police Division; Lieutenant Xanthone Sonnethavong
  • Head of the Tourism Police; Lieutenant Colonel Khamphone Nakhet
  • Head of the Provincial Heritage House; Mr. Khammanh Phimmasang
  • Eight head of the districts of Xieng Khouang Province
  • Officer of the Provincial Heritage House; Mr. Khamleune
  • Officer of Provincial Tourism Office; Mr. Sivay Yeuvang


Project Locations

Villages participating in community-based heritage tourism development:



UXO status

Ban Haihin ("Site 1")


Cleared during             Phase III

Ban Nakhong ("Site 2")


Ban Xiangdi ("Site 3")


Ban Phai


To be cleared                 during Phase IV

Ban Namhom


Khoum Songhak, Ban Naxaythong


Ban Phakeo + quarry site Phoulouang