The only evidence left of a mystery tribe is bodies in jars

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A long lost Cambodian tribe has left only one trace behind, but it's a significant one. Human remains have been found in jars. The latest have been found about one hundred and sixty feet up a cliff.

The Cardamom Mountains hide an unappetizing secret. Scattered over the hills are bodies, or what remains of them, stored in jars. Some of the jars are just hollowed out logs with bones and teeth in their hollows. Others are more elaborate ceramic works, with skulls peeking out of the necks. They're always in the mountains, some perched on shelves that seem to be cut into the stone near the bottom of the mountain, and some are just barely pushed into the shelter of caves.

It's no question that it's a burial ritual. The highest of the bodies are placed one hundred and sixty feet up cliff sides, probably to keep them from being accessible to anyone but the most determined. The jars show signs of being part of a ritual, too. The bottom or each jar has a hole drilled into it, either to make it of no value to anyone other than as a burial vessel, or just to let fluids or any water that leaked in drain quickly.


The sites are dated as being from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, which means the occupants must have lived during the Khmer Empire, a powerful and unified society that dominated much of Southeast Asia. These people, however, don't show any signs of being part of that empire. Perhaps their life in the mountains kept them independent, or just practically separate from the people around them. Still, it means that all we know today about them comes from their sky burials. We may never know more about them. Perhaps, given the lengths they went to hide their dead, they would have wanted it that way.

Top Image: Cardamom Mountains at Sunset

Via National Geographic.