Prehistoric Jar Burials in Mainland and Island Southeast Asia

1University of the Philippines

2National Museum of the Philippines

The use of jars as mortuary receptacles (manufactured from stone or ceramic) throughout Mainland and Island Southeast is considered to be an interment method utilised across a significant timespan, from the Neolithic (c. 4000 BP) until the historic period. Initial archaeological studies of this mortuary practice focused on associated cultural practices and variations in jar types. Over the years, the study of prehistoric jar burials expanded to include variation in local mortuary practices over time, regional exchange, and the investigation of landscapes associated with jar burial interment. Specific studies have included inter-regional interactions between groups in Central Vietnam and the Central Philippines, developing a better understanding the collective affinities of burials in Niah Cave, Sarawak, Borneo, understanding the role of the jar mortuary practice in Flores Island, and cultural expansion from Indonesia into the Pacific Islands, among others. We are now only just beginning to understand how the practice of jar burial reflects trade and exchange between communities, craftsmanship, belief systems and cultural complexity, and the significant role landscape plays in influencing social and ideological decision-making. Nevertheless, still very few studies have focussed on integrating and understanding the cultural and social networks evidenced through similarities in jar burial practice that might have existed across the Southeast Asian region, or the implications for our understanding of technological innovation the complex practice of interment in ceramic or stone vessels implies.

This panel proposes to examine prehistoric jar burials through varied lenses. Site-specific studies are encouraged, as well as inter-regional analyses that seek to answer questions regarding the practice of jar burials as mortuary containers in broader cultural, ideological and social contexts. While the focus may be presenting new data on prehistoric burials, we also encourage studies that look at changes in this mortuary practice through time.