Indonesia Tribes

Assam Archaeologists Discover World’s Largest Stone Pot Site

A team of archaeologists from Assam have stumbled across the largest stone pot site in the world, right in their own backyard – Nuchubunglo in Dima Hasao district of Assam.

Stone jars are a unique archaeological phenomenon in Assam, with similar features also present in Laos and Indonesia. The Assam sites were first recorded in the early 20th century, with systematic recording only beginning in 2014 by a collaborative effort of North-Eastern Hill University, University of Nagaland and the Archaeological Survey of India.

Stone jars in different Dima Hasao sites. Photo Tilok Thakuria

The study was published in the journal Asian Archaeology.

The team, led by Tilok Thakuria from North Eastern Hill University, includes Uttam Bathari from Gauhati University, while Nicholas Skopal from the Australian National University helped with the data work.

A new survey in 2020 reported four previously unreported megalithic jar sites, increasing the number from seven to 11 known jar sites, 10 of which are geolocated. 797 stone jars, in various states of preservation, were found over an area of ​​approximately 300 km2 at Dima Hasao.

“The site – Nuchubunglo – was first reported by Mills and Hutton in 1929, who reported around 400 pots during their survey. The nearest village to the site is known as Nuchubunglo, meaning ” hollow stone hills” in the Zemi dialect,” said Tilok Thakuria, a lecturer in charge of the history and archeology department at North Eastern Hill University. IsMojo.

“Our survey recorded 546 sandstone jars distributed along a conjoined ridge and spur with views of the surrounding landscape, at a height above sea level of between 750 and 710 meters,” said Thakuria. This site has the distinction of having the highest stone jar sites in the world.

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The site contains two distinct jar sizes: smaller jars averaging 50cm in height and width; and larger jars with an average height of 170 cm and a width of 100 cm.

The majority of pots are in poor condition with only 111 pots out of 546 complete. Further damage is being done to the jars due to recent road cutting projects.

Between the end of the second millennium BC and the 13th century AD, communities occupying Southeast Asia developed a remarkable cultural landscape incorporating stone jars. These features have also been recorded in Laos and Indonesia. Previous research suggests that Assam pots are distributed over an area of ​​about 300 km2, mostly located on ridges, hill slopes and spurs. The sites consist of various features including hundreds of jars, carved stones, foundation stones.

Assam jars were first described in 1929 by James Philip Mills and John Henry Hutton, two officials under the British Raj who reported six jar sites: Derebore (now Hojai Dobongling), Kobak, Kartong, Molongpa (now Melangpeuram), Ndunglo and Bolasan. (now Nuchubunglo).

They hypothesized a mortuary function for the jars based on ethnographic analogies, referring to ancestral bone-laying practices of tribes like Mikir, Sakchips, Hangkals, Kuki, Khasi and Synteng, and fragment evidence of cremated bones placed in one of the jars he mentioned.

“The jars indicate the early Neolithic use of iron and also indicate the cultural geography of jar builders spanning the Neolithic Age and Southeast Asia,” Thakuria said.

In 2014, a joint team under ASI Guwahati Circle conducted a targeted survey in Dima Hasao to relocate the jar sites identified by Mills and Hutton. The team used the village names associated with each of the six jar sites, identified as part of the 1932 report (Mills and Hutton 1929), to focus survey efforts. The survey made it possible to geolocate all the reported sites with the exception of Ndulngo. In 2016, the joint team continued their research at Hojai Dobongling where they further investigated the potential
housing depot and piles of engraved flat circular stones.

In 2020, the team aimed to comprehensively survey and document three known jar sites: Nuchubunglo, Loungmailai and Hojai Dobongling in the Haflong subdivision and, if possible, locate and survey new sites in both areas of designated interest.

The team investigated seven jar sites: previously reported sites including Loungmailai, Hojai Dobongling, Nuchubunglo and; four previously unreported sites Thaimodholing-1 and Thaimodholing-2, Lower Chaikam and Herakilo.

During the 2020 survey, it was further revealed that the positioning of jars at some sites, e.g. Thaimodholing-1, suggests views are directional with jars deliberately facing a particular area. This may suggest that the jars were placed to observe, or be observed from, a specific place in the landscape.

Across the jar sites studied, the authors observed some variation in jar shape and decoration. Three distinct types of jar sites have been recorded: bulbous-topped conical, biconical and cylindrical, with Nuchubunglo, the largest site, displaying all three types.

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“The shapes of the pots, the variation of shapes at the site, the maximum number of pots at Bolosan surprised me,” Thakuria said.

“We can’t say how many jar sites are in Assam, but it could definitely be more,” said Thakuria, who has worked on stone jars since 2014.

He said that it was necessary to plan systematic and scientific excavations of the jar sites to recover people’s cultural materials in order to know the social and cultural behavior of the people who made the jars. Currently the jars are empty.

The study indicates that knowledge gained from research on jar sites in Assam contributes to an understanding of this wider megalithic jar phenomenon distributed throughout Southeast Asia.

“There are probably still many sites to be discovered in the heavily forested highland landscape of Assam. Further research is also needed to compare jars from Assam to those from Laos and Indonesia to better understand the likely cultural relationship,” the study states.

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