Ancient coffins discovered in cental Laos

Ounkham Pimmata in Vientiane/Vientiane Times
Asia News Network

Vientiane (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Five wooden coffins thought to be more than 100 years old have been discovered outside Phonsa-aat village in Mahaxay district of Khammuan province in central Laos.

Authorities from the province's Heritage Department are examining the find in an attempt to determine just how old the coffins might be.

The coffins were found in the vicinity of Konlaving Cliff by local man Thy while he was searching for food. He told authorities he stumbled across them while he was scrambling over the cliff face in the hunt for wildlife.

The relics appear to be fashioned from hollowed out trees, and have a rounded base, but are sawn off at the top to accommodate the lids. Inside are carvings that resemble the neck and head of a human figure.

Each coffin is 2.4 metres long, 40 centimetres wide and 15 centimetres deep.

They are believed to have been part of religious burial rituals, according to the Director of the provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department, Sengmani Silaphet.

"We don't know how old they actually are, but judging from the state of the wood they are at least a century old," he said. The department has sent a request for experts to come and examine the coffins and determine their age.

Sengmani hopes to be able to give the public a definitive answer as soon as possible, but has to wait for experts to give their opinion.

At this stage the department isn't planning to put the coffins on display in a museum, but after their age and significance has been established, officials will talk with the concerned authorities about what is the most appropriate course of action.

Sengmani said it might be best to leave the coffins as they are. The wood is well preserved and should last for some time, and leaving the coffins in situ might prove to be a tourist attraction.

Their presence might also be of interest to young people in the area, and inspire them to develop an interest in history and culture.

They are the first old coffins to be discovered in the province but there have been other interesting finds in the area. Last year 114 Buddha images were uncovered in Phanoy cave, and it is likely there are other relics waiting to be discovered.