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Secrets of the Sapa stones

Historian Le Failler, from the Vien Dong Bac Co Institute, has spent a decade in Vietnam, charmed by stone carvings in Sa Pa.

“The Sa Pa stone carving site has attracted me since long ago. The site is not only beautiful, but has valuable objects for science,” Le Failler said.


Sa Pa, a mountain mecca for tourists, is located in the Muong Hoa valley, Lao Cai Province. It is surrounded by the towering Phanxipan Mountain, in the foothills of which, ancient stone carvings attract many researchers, including Le Failler.


At the site, nearly 300 stones bear sophisticated carvings. The largest stone is about 55sq.m while the smallest is the size of a table. The stones are carved into compasses, maps, human effigies, or what are believed to be religious symbols. One stone bears inscription in a special language, believed to be that of an ancient tribe. Each stone holds a secret and an interesting tale.


Several stones lie next to the houses of local H’Mong people, while others dot the springs and fields. H’Mong elders say there are stones throughout the valley, and scientists believe the stones were crafted by the ancestors of the H’Mong people.


In 1925, French professor Victor Goloubev published a research paper on the ‘Carved stones of Sa Pa”. He compared the designs to stone carvings by Laotian and Mongolian peoples, aiming to find their source. Continuing the effort, Le Failler has discovered more of their secrets.


Le Failler and his colleagues have made 1,321 rubbings from the stones, using 750sq.m of paper; and have taken 1,900 photos. They have identified and located 100 such stones, but their work is often interrupted by troublesome mountain weather. They plan to focus on another 100 stones in Muong Hoa. Le Failler said he wants to finish his fieldwork soon, and host a conference on his findings at the end of year.


Le Failler grizzled about the originality of many stones, claiming many are carved by visitors. “Such vandalism destroys the heritage of the area, and makes our research much more difficult,” He said, advocating protection of the stone site.

VIETNAMNET - (25/04/2006)

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