The earliest signs of human habitation in Laos is in the Stone Age. Artifacts have been found extending into northeast Thailand, and on the Plain of Jars. The society built around the Plain of Jars existed circa 500 BC. Huge stone mortuary urns are found throughout the site, the "jars" as modern discoverers came to call them. It is hypothesized that these people were Austroasiatic, and that they were the ancestors of the Khamu, which remain an important ethnic group in Laos today.
In the fourth and fifth centuries AD, Chinese people of the Yunnan region moved into the Laotian lands. There was also commerce and and other connections with India starting circa the eighth century, which culminated in the people adopting Buddhism as their religious path. Starting in the early 11th century, Laos belonged to the Khmer Angkor empire, and the Lao people displaced and dominated the region. Laotians originated in neighboring Thailand.
During the time of Mongol expansion (13th - early 14th centuries), Laos was affected. The Mongols probably allied with the Khmer Angkor kingdom.
However, the Khmer Angkor kingdom collapsed before mid-century, and a home-grown kingdom, the Lan Xang, was formed by 1349. Fa Ngoun (reigned 1353–1373) was the first king. The Lan Xang empire occupied somewhat larger geography than does Laos today. The boundaries of today's Laos have only been in place since 1907. The region we think of as Laos only includes a fraction of those who have, through history, considered themselves Laotian (Lao). From the 14th century until 1907, the boundaries of Laos extended into current-day northeastern Thailand.
Lan Xang survived for three centuries. On various occasions it was invaded by, or at war with, neighboring Thailand/Siam, Burma (Myanmar), Khmer (future Cambodia), and Vietnam. During its period of largest expansion, the 17th century, Lan Xang controlled Laos itself, and portions of Yunnan, China, south Burma, the Vietnamese and Khmer plateaus, and much of northeast Thailand.
In 1707, Lan Xang split into two kingdoms: Vientiane, with a capital city of the same name, covered southern Laos. Luang Phabang was the kingdom of northern Laos. The split, plus the dissentions which had caused the rift of an empire, weakened these people, and the end was in sight.
External invasions were repulsed until the 18th century, when internal politics created a situation where Thailand took advantage, and control, of the former Lan Xang empire. In the 1870's, Laos was absorbed into French Indochina. Laos remained under French control until 1953, with a brief WWII occupation under Japan.
In the year 1953, King Sisavang Vong managed to acquire full independence for Laos. This was challenged by nationalist forces, commonly known as the Pathet Lao, who formed an alliance with the Viet Cong of Vietnam. Their goal was to expell any remaining French. The nation also had conflicts with China to the north. Currently, Laos is being run by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. References:
Laos History and Laos Culture: http://www.iexplore.com/dmap/Laos/History
History from FactMonster: http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/world/A0859186.html
Laos Travel Guide: http://www.visit-mekong.com/laos/
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