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Ancient Megalithic Jars


The discovery of a number of megalithic stone jars in Assam’s Dima Hasao district has brought to focus possible links between India’s Northeast and Southeast Asia, dating back to the second millennium BC. According to a study in Asian Archaeology, the jars are a “unique archaeological phenomenon”. It calls for more research to understand the “likely cultural relationship” between Assam and Laos and Indonesia, the only two other sites where similar jars have been found.


GS-I: History, Art and Culture (Historical Evidences)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Assam’s Megalithic jar
  2. What is the significance of the Findings?
  3. What is a Megalith?
  4. Megaliths in India

Assam’s Megalithic jar

  • The jars of Assam were first sighted in 1929 by British civil servants James Philip Mills and John Henry Hutton, who recorded their presence in six sites in Dima Hasao: Derebore (now Hojai Dobongling), Kobak, Kartong, Molongpa (now Melangpeuram), Ndunglo and Bolasan (now Nuchubunglo).
  • These discoveries were followed up only in 2014, when a collaborative effort by researchers from the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) and Nagaland University under the Archaeological Survey of India (Guwahati circle) was undertaken.
  • Two sites were discovered in 2016.
  • Researchers documented three distinct jar shapes (bulbous top with conical end; biconcial; cylindrical) on spurs, hill slopes and ridge lines.

What is the significance of the Findings?

  • While the jars are yet to be scientifically dated, the researchers said links could be drawn with the stone jars found in Laos and Indonesia.
  • There are typological and morphological similarities between the jars found at all three sites.
  • Dating done at the Laos site suggests that jars were positioned at the sites as early as the late second millennium BC.
  • The other takeaway is the link to mortuary practices with human skeletal remains found inside and buried around the jars.
  • In Indonesia, the function of the jars remains unconfirmed, although some scholars suggest a similar mortuary role.

What is a Megalith?

  • A megalith is a large pre-historic stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones.
  • Most extant megaliths were erected between the Neolithic period (although earlier Mesolithic examples are known) through the Chalcolithic period and into the Bronze Age.
  • While “megalith” is often used to describe a single piece of stone, it also can be used to denote one or more rocks hewn in definite shapes for special purposes.
  • It has been used to describe structures built by people from many parts of the world living in many different periods.

Megaliths in India

  • Megaliths in India are dated before 3000 BC, with recent findings dated back to 5000 BC in southern India.
  • Megaliths are found in almost all parts of southern India.
  • There is also a broad time evolution with the megaliths in central India and the upper Indus valley where the oldest megaliths are found, while those in the east are of much later date.
  • A large fraction of these is assumed to be associated with burial or post burial rituals, including memorials for those whose remains may or may not be available.
  • The case-example is that of Brahmagiri, which was excavated in 1975 and helped establish the culture sequence in south Indian prehistory.
  • However, there is another distinct class of megaliths that do not seem to be associated with burials.
  • The burial sites are the sites with actual burial remains, such as dolmenoid cists (box-shaped stone burial chambers), cairn circles (stone circles with defined peripheries), and capstones (distinctive mushroom-shaped burial chambers found mainly in Kerala).
  • Commemorative megaliths include memorial sites.
  • In India, archaeologists trace the majority of the megaliths to the Iron Age (1500 BC to 500 BC), though some sites precede the Iron Age, extending up to 2000 BC.
  • The majority of megalithic sites are found in Peninsular India, concentrated in the states of Maharashtra (mainly in Vidarbha), Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.

-Source: Indian Express

February 2024