Virtual Plain of Jars to be created

Drone video of the Plain of Jars. Source: YouTube

A team of Australian archaeologists has announced plans to recreate Laos’ mysterious Plain of Jars in virtual reality, that could allow “visitors” to walk through remote sites.

The bomb-strewn area in Laos’ central Xieng Khouang province is scattered with thousands of stone containers for which researchers have yet to discover the original purpose.

Archaeologists struggle to access the sites which have yet to be cleared of unexploded mines and bombs dropped during the Vietnam War.

But Australian academics now say that their use of drones which capture 3D images every 10cm would allow them to explore sites like that cannot be studied in traditional ways.

The so-called CAVE2 data from the ANU and Melbourne’s Monash University teams will feed into the reproduction of the Plain of Jars, allowing archaeologists to visit virtually.

“The potential especially for places like Laos where there’s a serious UXO [unexploded ordnance] problem is that using remote technology to explore and map archaeological sites is incredibly useful,” said archeologist Dougald O’Reilly from the Australian National University.

“It decreases the danger of working in these places.

“You have to remember, it’s virtual re-excavation so you still have to do the dirty work in the field but this technology allows us to revisit the sites from anywhere,” he told the media.

“The facility is used for a lot of different applications and this is really the first time they’ve been doing close work with archaeology,” he said.

O’Reilly said archaeologists were also looking at using multispectral cameras which captured light from invisible frequencies, like infrared radiation, and airborne laser scanning technology known as lidar to create detailed maps.

They said the maps could be used to monitor changes to the sites over time.

The technology could be used to attract tourists, allowing visitors to wear a headset and walk around the site or be adapted for to let anyone with a smartphone explore sites with 3D maps.

“For museum applications, this is an amazing tool especially remote museums that are not at the site. So you can create this environment where people feel they are walking among the monuments in that three-dimensional context,” O’Reilly told AFP.

“It’s pretty amazing in that regard… it’s absolutely breathtaking actually. The experience is quite overwhelming.”

The ANU and Monash team earlier this year found ancient human remains which pointed to burial practices at the Plain of Jars as part of the first significant project since the 1930s to establish their purpose.

There are about 90 areas of carved jars ranging in height from one to three metres.