The Plain of Jars of Laos – World Heritage Monuments in Stone. A Talk by Lia Genovese


Decoration on a sandstone jar in Phaxay district,
Xieng Khouang. One of the most unusual carvings discovered at the Plain of Jars. (Photo: Lia Genovese)


To be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, monuments must possess Outstanding Universal Value and must meet one or more of ten selection criteria. For the Plain of Jars, the inscription process began with a Tentative Listing in March 1992 and was completed on 6 July 2019, with 11 sites recognised as World Heritage Monuments under Criterion (iii): “a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared”.

Dr Lia Genovese’s talk will summarise the World Heritage listing process, with a discussion of opportunities and challenges. How representative are the 11 sites inscribed in July, considering that the Plain of Jars as a whole consists of more than 100 locations spread over the provinces of Xieng Khouang and Luang Prabang?  Will the current infrastructure support the inevitable surge in tourist visits that follows a World Heritage listing?  What concerns did the World Heritage Committee express during the course of the selection procedure, including unexploded ordnances (UXO) and aspects of the site management process?  What level of monitoring is likely to be applied to the listed sites?  What are the prospects for the remaining sites, particularly the under-researched locations in Luang Prabang, home to some of the most unusual stone artefacts?  Notwithstanding a World Heritage listing seen as the gold standard of conservation, some communities have declined to join this prestigious club, citing loss of control and site degradation as potential, undesirable outcomes from an inscription.


Dr Lia Genovese obtained her PhD from SOAS University of London for a thesis on ‘The Plain of Jars of Laos - Beyond Madeleine Colani’ (http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/20397; hard copy available in The Siam Society’s library). She is a part-time lecturer at Thammasat and Silpakorn Universities in Bangkok. Her fieldwork takes her to the Plain of Jars and other megalithic sites in the region. Her research remit covers French colonial archaeology; gender archaeology; Iron Age mortuary practices; cultural heritage and research methodologies. Ajarn Lia is currently working on a critical biography of the French archaeologist Madeleine Colani, pioneer of the Plain of Jars, and is a Member of The Siam Society’s Lecture Committee.

Date: Thursday 12 December 2019
Time: 7.00 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

Non-members donation: B200. Siam Society members, members’ spouses and children, and all students showing valid student ID cards are admitted free of charge. For more information, please contact Khun Arunsri or

Office Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:00am. – 5:00pm.

The Siam Society is deeply grateful to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation for its generous support of the 2019-2020 Lecture Series.