- Lao Pako—A Late Prehistoric Site on the Nâm Ngum River in Laos
Little archaeological research has been undertaken in Laos. French scholars, such as M. Collani, conducted general surveys and excavations in the Plain of Jars in Laos during the French colonial regime. It was impossible to conduct field surveys in Laos [End Page 169] during the Viet Nam War, but until 1975. D. Hein conducted the first excavations after this period on the kiln site, Sisattanak, in south Vientiane in 1989. I briefly excavated in the Plain of Jars in November 1994 and revealed burial pits and a burial jar that contained human bones and teeth; an iron knife and a clay spindle whorl came from beneath the large stone jar. Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy, too, excavated in the Plain of Jars and found the same as I. He also excavated a cave site near Luang Prabang in 1994.
Lao Pako is yet another interesting prehistoric site located in the Mekong Basin. It is situated 40 km from Vientiane on the bank of Nâm Ngum River and is famous for many archaeological finds. Källén and Karlström excavated Lao Pako from November 1995 to January 1996. They identified two cultural layers containing jars and slag, which had resulted from iron-working activities. Based on the jars and iron slag, Lao Pako was determined to be a habitation site with a burial jar cemetery.
I would like to make two observations regarding the jar burials and iron working at Lao Pako. First, one jar excavated at Lao Pako (J23; Plate 14 on p. 17) is critical for examining the cultural ties between Lao Pako and Northeast Thailand via Mekong River transportation. Further, it represents one of the mortuary customs of Mainland Southeast Asia. The jar's appliqué decoration is the key for comparison with other areas. The appliqué decoration at Lao Pako consists of a rope-motif strip of clay applied onto the shoulder of the jar. The decoration is made by pressing a comb-like or flat pallet against the strips. Two horizontal strips are applied on the shoulder, and a crooked handlebar moustache-like strip is set at the "screwhead" knob on the lower horizontal strip. Appliqué decoration is widely distributed in the upper Chi and Songkhram basins in Northeast Thailand, such as at Ban Nadi (Higham and Kijngam 1984 : 54–57, fig. 3), Non Pa Kluay (Wilen 1989: fig. 69), Ban Chiang, and Ban Chiang Hian. However, the Lao Pako motif is more similar to that of the burial jars at Karn Luan north of Ubon Ratchathani (FAD 1992). Located on a large mound, Karn Luan is a village and cemetery site where many burial jars were found. I had the opportunity to see the burial jars at Karn Luan during excavations by the landowner and the Fine Arts Department. Here, a jar burial consists of a larger, lower jar and a smaller, upper jar. The smaller jar is placed over the lower one like a lid. Another smaller jar is placed inside the lower jar. This also occurs at Lao Pako. The lower jar at Karn Luan is decorated with an appliqué motif—whose x-shaped crooked strips are pinched by a comb-like pallet (Nitta 1996). According to the burial goods, Karn Luan is contemporaneous with Ban Chiang's late period. Furthermore, red-painted pottery, which is similar to Ban Chiang painted pottery but different from Roi Et ware, is distributed in the region of Ubon Ratchathani. The pottery found at Lao Pako indicates a cultural tie between Nâm Ngum, Sakhon Nakhon, and the lower Mun basins by the river route.
The second observation regards the iron working at Lao Pako. Metallurgical analysis of the slag is required to determine exactly which process was used in iron production. A smelting process using sand iron results in slag containing titanium. Unfortunately we have no data on the...