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Laos, History

Plain of Jars, Mongol Empire, southern China, northern Thailand, Khmer

The first inhabitants of Laos were early Stone Age people, who left the remains of their polished axes. By the middle of the 1st millennium bc, people on the Plain of Jars who probably spoke an Austro-Asiatic language created a flourishing Bronze Age culture. This culture was characterized by huge stone funerary urns (the "jars" after which the plateau is named) and by bronze tools and weapons. Eventually its people learned to use iron smelted from ores mined nearby. Historians believe that Laosís earliest inhabitants were the ancestors of the Lao Thoeng, who today live on Laosís mountain slopes.

By the early centuries ad, small kingdoms were becoming established in mainland Southeast Asia. One of these, the kingdom of Zhenla, arose in the 7th century and extended from northern Cambodia into southern Laos. Later, small kingdoms were established in the regions of Vientiane and Louangphrabang and elsewhere on the middle Mekong.

In the meantime, the Lao and other Tai peoples had been slowly moving south and southeast from southern China and northwestern Vietnam, cultivating upland valleys and pushing out the Lao Thoeng. Lao myths tell of this expansion, which reached Louangphrabang perhaps as early as the 10th century. There the Lao established their first small principality in what is now Lao territory. In the 12th century this principality was absorbed into the Khmer (Cambodian) Empire, and in the late 13th century it came under the control of the Mongol Empire. During this turmoil, Tai peoples carved out their first substantial kingdoms, first in central and northern Thailand and then in Laos.

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Article key phrases:

Plain of Jars, Mongol Empire, southern China, northern Thailand, Khmer, millennium bc, ores, plateau, Cambodian, ancestors, turmoil, weapons, Laos, Historians, meantime, iron, expansion, century, middle, control


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