Dowsing Archaeological Features;
An empirical study at Cressing Temple, Witham, Essex.


2. Background to dowsing techniques.

Although most commonly associated with finding water, dowsing is widely used for other purposes including geophysical and site surveying, mineral prospecting, medical diagnosis and healing, archaeological searches, agriculture, soil testing and tracing lost objects and people. A brief historical overview is given below.

The History of Dowsing.

The history of dowsing is significantly long and is highly documented (See Bib. 1) and so only a brief reprise will be given here. Dowsing is also known as divining, biolocation, 'twitching' and in America as 'doodlebugging.' The term Radiesthesia for medical dowsing was coined by French priest Alex Bouly based on the Latin words for 'radiation' and 'perception'. The term dowsing is most commonly accepted.

The first recorded use of dowsing is thought to be in a cave painting at Tassili nAjjer in the Sahara, dated to approximately 6000 BC. This appears to show a crowd of onlookers watching a dowser search for water. The technique is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs dated to c. 3000BC. After their escape from the Egyptians (c. 2000 BC) the Hebrews are thought to have used it and Moses is quoted in the Bible as saying, 'Take the rod...and speak ye unto the rock...and it shall give forth water' (Numbers 20:9 11).

In 50BC Cicero recorded the use of the Virgula Divinatorium, the dowsing rod. Much later in AD1528, Martin Luther denounced dowsing in 'Decem praecepta' as being the work of the Devil and accused dowsers of breaking the First Commandment.

'De re metallica' the well respected treatise by Georgius Agricola published in AD1556 has illustrations and comments on the common use of the technique by miners for the finding of metallic ores. In the seventeenth century Kaspar Schott, a Jesuit priest and mathematician, was the first to suggest that the movement of the dowsing rod was due to unconscious muscular action.

At the turn of the twentieth century it was being noted that new water supplies were being profitably located by dowsing. (Mullins et al. 1894).

Dowsing has also been exploited by the military. Dowsing appeared in USSR army manuals in 1930 for the finding of water in remote areas and was used by the First and Third US Marine Divisions in Vietnam, 1967, as a 'simple, low-cost method for locating Vietcong tunnels, which were used for communication, storage depots, supply networks, command posts, training centres, hospitals and sally ports for over twenty years'. (Bossart 1968).

Scientific study of the technique began in 1890. Although there were positive indications of correlations between scientific observations and dowsing results, the experiments were insufficiently rigorous to convince the scientific community. Some dowsing studies such as Ellis (1917); Hyman and Vogt (1958); Vogt and Hyman (1959) which scathingly referred to the technique as 'water witching' appeared to the dowsing fraternity to be more concerned with the reputation of the authors and failed to make concrete conclusions.

The physicists Maby and Franklin (1939), found that dowsers reacted to electromagnetic waves and, in 1949, S.W. Tromp published 'Psychical physics: A scientific analysis of dowsing, radiesthesia and kindred divining phenomena.' in which he carefully measured electro-cardiac responses of dowsers and noted a 20mV step change when the dowsing rods were observed to move. In 1952 a team of electrical engineers tested a famous dowser Henry Gross, and found that his skin potential changed by up to 200mV over subterranean water, compared with a change of 10mV for non-dowsers.

Ford (1961) was careful to state that dowsing was unproven by testing but concluded that a few dowsers may react to electromagnetic influences. Barrett and Besterman (1968) carried out field studies for finding water, using a number of independent experiments with two or more dowsers, and compared the results with those suggested by consultant engineers and geologists. In 1970, Harvalik conducted elaborate experiments with metal shielding of the human body and an instrument to concentrate and direct an artificial magnetic field in an attempt to locate the positions of sensors in the body that might account for the dowsing reaction.. (Harvalik, 1970).

In 1971 a scientifically conducted double-blind study was carried out by a sceptic Chadwick (Chadwick and Jensen 1971), with control experiments and statistically valid results. In the experiment buried features were identified by a number of dowsers and then the results compared to a remote sensing survey which was made after the dowsing survey. Thus both the experimenter and the subjects could have no prior knowledge of what might be found. This sparked a plethora of scientific experiments searching for an explanation to the phenomenon of which there are far too many to expand upon with any depth here. (See Bib.1).

In 1997 it was suggested that dowsing was allied to interferometry (Reddish 1998) and the Dowsing Physics Group was established to promote an international research program.

Finally, it can still be seen that dowsing is treated with much scepticism and is often trivialised especially by the popular media. Often this scepticism is fuelled by individuals who seek publicity for themselves or claim that dowsing is an arcane or supernatural phenomena privy to a few initiated individuals.

It perhaps also has not shaken off its vernacular image and many so-called experiments purported to prove theories about dowsing have either been scientifically flawed or designed to denigrate the subject. Despite this it is a fact that dowsing is regularly used to find water, drains, cables and other buried services as well as for prospecting and archaeological and geological preliminary mapping. It is hoped that this study serves to add to the knowledge in this area.

3. How does dowsing work?

Click to return to index.

Barry Hillman-Crouch. MSt PA, Dip FA, BSc, HND. Written 1999 Published on the web June 2005.

Since writing this thesis the subject of dowsing has blossomed on the Internet and there are some sites claiming that this is the image of the dowser at Tassili nAjjer. It is called the Archers of Tin Aboteka. It clearly depicts a figure with a bow and arrow. I suppose the shape of the bow and arrow could be imagined as a forked stick but where is the crowd of onlookers? The larger figure is 1.8m high - life size. BJHC 260708.