Dowsing Rods: Empirical Evidence and Applications for Charting the Subsurface

By John S. Janks

This paper is a summary of the empirical evidence we discovered while working on locating buried objects. Our object was to develop a scientifically based method for individuals to locate buried objects and aboveground tripwires. We used only a brass pair of rods, bent into the familiar "L" shape. The data consistently show repeatable patterns that depend upon the size and shape of the buried object. The objects used in the testing were made of metal, ceramic and plastic. Some objects were detected as far as 20 meters away, and above ground trip wires, some as thin as 1 mm in diameter were also located with relative ease. The patterns created by combinations of buried cord or wire attached to a circular or rectangle object were successfully charted using this method. When two buried were close enough to affect each other, we detected dowsing rod movement along the axis approximately 60+ meters. In an unanticipated discovery, we found a user remaining stationary could track the path of low flying aircraft. In all our experiments, the rod farthest from the source moved the most. We found that the presence or absence of water had no effect on the outcome. We believe that dowsing rods could be applicable to both military and humanitarian demining, and encourage active testing. While we did not have the tools or funding to study it, we believe that earth-born Telluric Currents are the most likely candidate for creating dowsing rod movement. Fourteen videos have been published on YouTube and their URLs are located in the appendix.


I know very well that many scientists consider dowsing as they do astrology, as a type of ancient superstition. According to my conviction this is unjustified. The dowsing rod is a simple instrument which shows the uncanny reaction of the human nervous system to certain factors which are unknown to us at this time.

Albert Einstein, Letter to Mr. H. Peisach, 15 February 1946

This paper is the result of a long-term investigation into the phenomenon known as "dowsing" and consists of three parts: (1) empirical evidence of dowsing rod movement, (2) applications of the technique and (3) investigation into the scientific principles that govern their behavior. Most of the scientific literature considers dowsing a pseudoscience. We found the dowsing phenomenon, in our studies, to be repeatable and capable of prediction. In order to ensure testing integrity for that reason we chose the methodology and recommendations of Cotton and Scalise. [1]

Despite requests, there has been no funding, no outside testing, and no confirmation of the findings. Our job is to make the methodology simple to follow and replicate so that other scientists, should they choose, test the findings themselves.

For many, dowsing is considered a valid method to locate underground water, minerals, oil and gas, buried treasure, etc. To others, it is nothing more than the human mind-performing unconscious acts (the "Ideomotor Effect").

The second part discusses applications of our findings. The ability of dowsing rods to locate buried objects, tunnels, and above- and below-ground wires has the potential to aid both military and humanitarian efforts in locating IEDs or landmines. Obviously, such simple techniques will not work in all situations. But then again, neither have the multiple $billion high-tech methods. The low-tech method that is dowsing has the potential help either soldiers or civilians by providing a tool that may help them avoid landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Low-tech methods are already a part of everyday life in Iraq: Silly String looks for wires in rooms, chewing tobacco kills stomach worms, tampons are great for plugging bullet wounds, taped uniforms keeps out insects, and cigarette butts keep dirt out of rifles. [2]

Anecdotally, it has been said that the military has tested dowsing rods before, but that should in no way rule out testing this new information. Great sums of defense dollars have been spent on Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), which has demonstrated, as it has for 40 years, that the presence of water masks the buried object, and a knowledge of the surrounding soil is a necessity. Even with the inherent problems created by soil type and water content GPR continues to be under study. [3] Metal detectors continue to come off the assembly line even though most of the new explosive devices are plastic.

Year after year, decade after decade we are promised that the next great high-tech invention will stop Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks. The rate of casualties caused by mines or IEDs has grown from 2.5% in World War II, to 13% in the Vietnam War to 60% in Iraq. [4] The humanitarian side of the landmine problem is little different. The U.S., Canada, Japan and the European Union have spent tens of $millions trying to find technology that will speed up landmine removal and reduce the mortality and injury rate. The Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining attempts to list them all. At present the list is 226 pages. [5] In countries plagued with landmines, it is still the individual probing the ground gently with a stick or metal wand who performs demining.

Demining is more complex than conditions in the laboratory or as presented by the media. No one wants to use radiation-emitting detectors for fear of it being lost or stolen and becoming a future dirty bomb. High-tech equipment is extremely complex and getting replacements or spare parts in Third World countries is difficult. Dogs used for demining are subject to fatigue just like their human counterparts.

While highlighted by the media the trained rats are much more difficult to deal with that it appears. The manpower needed to keep the rats on a steady course makes it slower than demining by hand. Mine-detecting honeybees die off, taking their abilities with them. Farmers are not happy with groups trying to spray fluorescing bacteria or other microbes over their land. GPR has potential in some situations, but even then the cost is $15,000 each.

Most of the high-tech devices are not at the disposal of the foot soldier. Instead, troops are being trained to detect mines and their potential hiding places. Adequate training in locating IEDs, landmines or other booby traps is a must, but in many cases even that is insufficient. The following example illustrates the difficulties: [6]

Camp Shelby, Miss. "The platoon of soldiers from the Utah Army National Guard grids to a halt. Ahead on the side of the road, lies a small pile of garbage. It’s just the kind of place insurgents hide what the military likes to call Improvised Explosive Devices-the roadside bombs that have become the top killer in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Randall Robinson peers through a pair of binoculars. He can’t tell if the debris shelters a bomb, so he and another soldier sprint over to the road for a better look. Lying on the ground some 50 feet away from the pile, they determine that it is nothing more than rubble. "Looks like garbage," says Robinson, as he turns to the platoon. "Dead, dead, dead," says Sgt. 1st Class, Jeremias Osorio, a trainer in south-central Mississippi. Osario points to Robinson and seven other guardsmen "Take off your Kevlar, you’re dead." The garbage was a decoy, and a successful one. The soldiers missed a small red wire visible on top of some recently disturbed straw."

It is in a situation like this that some L-shaped dowsing rods could play a highly significant role. The rods are easy to use and can be made of most anything. The rods would have pointed towards each other as they neared the hidden wire. Linear features like wires, above or below ground, are some of the most straightforward objects that rods detect. Even 1 mm clear fishing line is detectable. Furthermore, the rods align themselves with the direction of the wire, regardless of the direction of the user.


Our protocol used metal, ceramic and plastic, materials similar to what modern explosive devices are composed of. For testing buried cords, plastic rope and synthetics were used. We used 1-mm clear fishing line; 8 mm tape, and thin wire to represent trip wires.

We added a very significant twist to the proving grounds: semi-dry to loamy soils that had been used as an illegal dump. Ditches and roadways in Iraq and Afghanistan are littered with aluminum cans, garbage and water or damp soil. We chose ground ranging from dry to water-saturated. We intentionally chose ground that would normally render useless metal detectors, robots, airborne sensors, and GPR. Because IEDs can be hidden so easily we added used tires, masonry, aluminum cans and vegetation. One can was buried in water-saturated clay then overlain with a used tire, aluminum cans and vegetation. Two other tires were covered in the same way but without a buried object beneath it. The dowsing rods correctly identified which tire covered the buried object 8-10 meters away.


Table 1 summarizes our findings:

Empirical ResultDescription
1Dowsing rods can detect metals, ceramics, or plastic objects.
2Water, above or below ground had no influence on rod movement.
3Dowsing rods are highly successful at locating linear features (e.g., trip wires) above or below ground.
4The human body, for whatever reason, is an essential part of dowsing rod use.
5Rod behavior is dictated by the size, shape and nearness to other buried objects.
6The rod held furthest from the source always moves the most.
7Dowsing rods respond to (low-flying) aircraft.
8Garbage such as used tires; aluminum cans and vegetation do not affect rod behavior.
9If two buried objects are close to each other, dowsing rods can detect their presence 60+ meters along the line they define.
10Rods can trace and locate buried cord and objects that are connected to the cord.

Figure 1. Diagrammatic illustration of what the user would see in the rod farthest from the object as he/she continued moving to the left.

Fig. 1. Diagrammatic illustration of what the user would see in the rod farthest from the object as he/she continued moving to the left.

The simplest test was to bury a quart metal can then walk a grid pattern at one-meter intervals as seen in Figure 1. The arrows indicate the direction the rods point as the user moves along a traverse. Moving right-to-left he will see no movement until he reaches the traverse at seven meters. At that point the rod farthest from the buried object moves to a 90° position. The area of rod movement widens as he continues following the traverses to the left. When he finds the rods pointing towards each other, he is very near the center of the object. Farther to the left, the user will see the mirror image of what he found on the right. The extent of the circle is dependent upon the size of the object (in this case, circular). Rod movement is governed by the size and shape of the buried object. Figure 2 illustrates the general alignment for a buried rectangular-shaped object. One example of how the dowsing rods would appear to a user is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 2. Example of dowsing rod responses to a rectangular object. Note that the direction the user moves in not relevant to detecting objects.

Fig. 2. Example of dowsing rod responses to a rectangular object. Note that the direction the user moves in not relevant to detecting objects.

Trip wires, above-and belowground, as well as cord and tubing are among the easiest feature to identify using dowsing rods. This is especially important because trip wires and hoses or cords buried slightly under the surface are very easy to camouflage and the human eye misses them. Figure 4 illustrates what a user sees when approaching a trip wire: the rods point rapidly towards each other. They respond to the trip wire’s location not the direction the user is walking. Regardless of direction of approach, the dowsing rods will line up (i.e., pointing towards each other) within a meter of the wire or cord. In our tests we included 1 mm-fishing line (clear) and up to 8 mm tape for our experiments. Even a relative novice had no trouble identifying them. When several cords were buried and placed with cans along select points it was possible to separate the signature of the can from that of the buried cord.

Some New Findings

Figure 3. How dowsing rods would appear as a user approached a buried object. The angle the rods is about equal, indicating she is headed directly toward it.

Fig. 3. How dowsing rods would appear as a user approached a buried object. The angle the rods is about equal, indicating she is headed directly toward it.

Over the past several years we have expanded our knowledge base to previously here-to-fore unknown facts. Most of these latter finding were found only by accident in the process of working on other experiments. One of the most curious results is the behavior of the rods when they cross a line defined by two buried objects relatively close to each other (Figure 5). What is unusual is that the distance the rods will move can be 60+ meters away. In the hands of the user, the outer rod, farthest from the source is the only one that moves, pointing to the buried objects. We have observed this phenomenon only with multiple buried objects. One possible consideration is that the rod is acting as a counterpoise. [7] A user noticing this pattern forming as he/she walks a traverse can identify the direction of the buried object as well as expect the presence of more than one. This observation is important as it gives the user considerable safe distance and indicates that more than one object is buried.

Another unexplained aspect is that dowsing rods follow low-flying commercial airliners, as the user remains stationary. We live near an airport and are thus near relatively low-level takeoffs and landings. The rod farthest from the plane follows its path, especially from the rear. Whether this is due to a radar reflection or response to a transponder is unknown.

In all our testing we put a cardboard box fitted with dowsing rods through the exact same procedures in our testing protocol. We never observed any movement of the dowsing rods attached to the box, while the human experimenter along side it the dowsing rods moved according to predicted patterns. It is clear that the human body is part of the phenomenon.


Figure 4. When encountering a trip wire or any linear feature the rods align themselves in the direction of the wire, regardless of the direction the user walks.

Fig. 4. When encountering a trip wire or any linear feature the rods align themselves in the direction of the wire, regardless of the direction the user walks.

Dowsing rods are a low-tech method for charting the shallow subsurface and aboveground trip wires. The method stands in stark contrast to the highly expensive and bulky methods under development today. In the US, most of the technologies have taken years to develop at a cost of $billions and many still have not made it to the battlefield. This is not to say that high-tech research should be discarded. Rather, it is time to spend more time and effort on low-tech methods that have so far been completely ignored. The dowsing rod method is simple, with universal application, and should be given proper testing. Oddly enough, reliance on high-tech weapons can give the advantage to the insurgents. History has demonstrated that an army relying on a great technological advantage may in fact be a disadvantage against a low-tech insurgency. This is not my idea or opinion. Rather, it comes from Lawrence of Arabia. He noted that a successful insurgency must have at least a technologically superior enemy, and the passive support of the populace. [8]

Figure 5. A diagram of two buried objects relativel close to each other. We found empirically that the axis defined by the two objects has the ability to make dowsing rods move 60+ meters away (but only along the axis). Each arm of the axis points towards the center. This phenomenon would allow users to tell where the objects are buried and that there are alt least more than one.

Fig. 5. A diagram of two buried objects relativel close to each other. We found empirically that the axis defined by the two objects has the ability to make dowsing rods move 60+ meters away (but only along the axis). Each arm of the axis points towards the center. This phenomenon would allow users to tell where the objects are buried and that there are alt least more than one.

It is no secret that in the current asymmetric wars, the advantage is to the low-tech insurgent. Low-tech means low cost, and the insurgents can exchange IEDs made from old artillery shells and egg timers for $800,000 robots all day long. Low cost, rapid development and the ability to swiftly adapt are hallmarks of a successful insurgency.

For example, as the US began up-armoring its vehicles the insurgency responded by developing and using Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs). Little more than a five inch copper disc at the end of a pipe filled with explosives, EFPs can cleave through the thickest armor "like butter," one soldier said. Author Alexander Cockburn, curious about the cost of such a device asked a Pentagon official working on the EFP problem. [9] "Twenty bucks," the official said, "thirty at the most."

The US is spending $billons of dollars trying to come up a foolproof weapon, relying on the insurgents to run away in terror when they see the newest technological marvel. But they don’t. Instead, they quickly devise a countermeasure, which, more often than not, neutralizes the high-tech weapon, leaving jaws dropped all over the pentagon. The weapons development plan of the US and the insurgents can be represented by two triangles, one representing the way insurgents develops weapons, and the other the way the US does (Figure 6).

Figure 6. The triangles in this figure show how weapons development occurs in the US and an insurgency. The insurgents have little money and time for development, but rapid production of useable field weapons and opposite. By contrast, the US develop is top-heavy with money and time.

Fig. 6. The triangles in this figure show how weapons development occurs in the US and an insurgency. The insurgents have little money and time for development, but rapid production of useable field weapons and opposite. By contrast, the US develop is top-heavy with money and time.

The insurgents have little money, but millions of tons of explosives at their disposal. They send some of their members to universities to learn radio, electrical engineering or telecommunications. Development time is short. Some governmental reports indicate that they respond to a change in US tactics in as little as five days. Finally, the weapons are produced in large numbers and an army of soldiers that know how to us them.

By contrast, the US spends $billions with extremely long development time. In the end there are few of these weapons that make it to the battlefield with soldiers capable of using them. A few within the military have challenged the Pentagon’s fascination with high-tech weaponry. One officer put it this way, "That attitude was ‘All we have to do is throw technology at it and the problem will go away.’ The day we lose a war it will be to guys with spears and loincloths, because they’re not tied to technology. And we’re kind of close to being there. [10]" Added an officer writing in the Marine Corps Gazette, "The Flintstones are adapting faster than the Jetsons". [11] Perhaps we have finally reached the point when we will be able to follow the advice of Brig. General Puman Kamwar, India’s counter-terrorism and jungle warfare expert: "Fight a Guerrilla like a Guerrilla. [12]"

Popular news-grabbing high-tech weaponry is not as successful as initially thought. Cost, size and weight, breakdowns due to heat and dust impede their deployment to the front line troops, the ones needing them most. We’re not saying that the dowsing rod technique is the answer to all IED/landmine problems. In fact, it could prove of little value to the Armed Forces. But we don’t whether the dowsing rods methodology will pass or fail a realistic test because no one has do so to date. We feel it would be a service to the country and the world to adequately test the methods.

Understanding the Physics Behind the Dowsing Rod

Why is so little known about the dowsing rod and the reason for their movements? The most likely candidate the competition between those who believe strongly in power of dowsing rods heal personalities, find buried treasure, identify ghosts and spirits in a room, etc. Such claims are hard to stand up under scientific scrutiny. The opposing side is those scientists who have tested the method over the years (usually for water) and found the method lacking.

Dr. Betz [13] has shown that there is no correlation between dowser predictions and the discovery of underground water. I owe Dr. Betz an apology for missing the main point of his article and instead concentrated on the relationship between rock type and water production. [14], [15] As Dr. Betz correctly pointed out, the dowsers involved were unsuccessful in their efforts.

In an earlier published paper on the dowsing rod topic two prominent physicists, Drs. Sanford Sorkin [16] and Hans Betz [17] and correctly pointed out that the dowsing rod farthest from the source moves the most is contrary to known physical principles. I limited the finding presented here empirical evidence precisely because I have not been able to test any potential force.

Many have noted that whatever force is in play it is likely not gravity, as tree limbs would bend toward the object, nor electromagnetism (directly) because in that scenario the rod nearest the buried object would move the most. Although not tested, my particular candidate known as "Telluric Currents flow through the earth on both land and sea. They are strong enough that telegraph companies were established in the US in 1859 using them as the power source. [18] The Earth battery, in general, generated power for early telegraph transmissions and formed part of a tuned circuit that amplified the signaling voltage over long distances. Telluric currents have two favorable characteristics: (1) they are not strictly electromagnetic and therefore subject to the peculiarities of the electromagnetic spectrum (microwaves used by GPR are absorbed by water and converted to heat, as anyone who has warmed his/her morning coffee knows) and (2) they can travel subsurface with ease. The trouble with studying Telluric Currents is that long arrays are needed. The problem of relatively small changes in the electric field over a small distance complicates the matter farther. Others have noted that there is not one, but several surface waves, complicating the picture even more. A quart metal can sitting on the surface will make the dowsing rods move about at the can’s boundary. But if buried so that the top is just below the surface, the dowsing rods will move 5-10 meters away. Don’t allow yourself to become comfortable thinking that earth currents are well understood and that there is nothing left to discover about them.

Telluric Currents as a class are complex, and are complicated by other surface waves. Zenneck, Sommerfield, and Norton Surface Waves [18] all add to the complexity of researching if Telluric Currents are the major source of energy used in dowsing rod movement.

We hope that the information presented in this paper will inspire both military and humanitarian agencies to review dowsing rods as a tool in landmine and IED detection. Also, the information gained from studying dowsing rod energy sources will lead to farther gains in nature and character of earth currents.


This paper presents empirical evidence on dowsing rod capabilities. By concentrating all our effort on what was empirical evidence, our findings are clearly and easily reproducible for any interested party. We found that they repeatedly located buried objects of metal, ceramic and plastic. The size of the area where dowsing rods move is proportion to size and shape of the buried object. Rod movement identified above ground tripwires as well as below ground wires, cords and pipe. We discovered that among others, dowsing rods respond to low-flying aircraft. We also showed that combinations of buried objects connected to bury cords could be traced with relative ease. Aboveground trip wires, some 1 mm-thick fishing line were among the easiest to identify.

So far the military establishment has refused to touch this and other low-tech methods. We suggest that military and humanitarian groups, whose job it is to find IEDs and landmines take a serious, look into ability of dowsing rods as a countermeasure. The military in particular is still searching for tools to detect IEDs. If independent tests validate the evidence in this report, then there will be access to low-cost, low maintenance tools for the average soldier to add to his arsenal to counter IEDs and landmines. We have not discovered what forces are involved with dowsing rods, but suggest that shallow Telluric Currents are a probable candidate. Fourteen YouTube "Dowsing Rod Science" videos and their URLs are listed in Appendix I.


  1. Cotton, J. L. and R. J. Scalise, 2003, The Scientific Method – Critical and Creative Thinking, <>.
  2. Spring, S., 2007, MacGyver in Mesopotamia, Newsweek, November 24, 2007. <>
  3. Miller, T. W., M. H. Hendricks and B. Borchers, 2004, Radar Detection of Buried Landmines in Field Soils, <>
  4. Beiser, V. Desperately Seeking Landmines, March 1, 2010, Miller-McCune Magazine, 4p.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Barnes, J. E., 2005, Beating the Roadside Bombers, U. S., May 9, 2005,
  7. Peterson, G.L., 2008, Rediscovering the Zenneck Surface Wave, Twenty-First Century Books, Breckenridge, CO. <>
  8. Fowler, C. A., Asymmetric Warfare: A Primer, <>
  9. Cockburn, A., 2007, In Iraq, Anyone Can Make a Bomb, Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2007, 2p. <>
  10. Atkinson, R., 2007, The Single Most Effective Weapon Against Our Deployed Forces, Washington Post, September 30, 2007, 5p. <>
  11. Ibid.
  12. Chopra, A., 2009, The Man Behind a Force to Be Reckoned With. The National, November 3, 2009, 2p. <>
  13. Betz, H. D., 1995, Unconventional Water Detection: Field Test of the Dowsing Technique in Dry Zones, Parts I and II. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 9 (1,2). <> <>
  14. Janks, J. S., 2006, Utility and Limits of Dowsing Rods to Chart the Subsurface Frontier Perspectives, 15.1:26-31. <>
  15. Janks, J. S., 2006, Correspondence: Frontier Perspectives, pp. 6-7.
  16. Sorkin, S. M., Correspondence: Frontier Perspectives, vol. 15, no.2, p. 5-6.
  17. Betz, H. D., 2006, Correspondence: Frontier Perspectives, vol. 15, no.2, p. 5.
  18. Sparber, F., 2006, Re: [Vol]: T. H. Moray’s Energy Device,, December 23, 2006, 3 p.

YouTube Dowsing Rod Science Videos
Created by I. E. Sigma Productions

YouTube "Dowsing Rod Science" SegmentSegment ID
Part 1: Summary Findings (Updated 04/09)
Part 2: Buried Objects Under Wood
Part 3: Locating Objects Under Difficult Conditions
Part 4: Multiple Objects
Part 5: Electrical Conductivity
Part 6: Aircraft with Stationary User
Part 7: Pipes, Trip Wires, Bricks
Part 8: Simple Double Blind Test
Part 9: Testing the "Ideomotor Effect" with Modern Materials
Part 10: Aircraft Effect on Rods
Part 11: Rigid Double Blind Test
Part 12: Finding Trip Wires
Part 13: Original-Archived - Updated 2 April 2009 as Part 1
Part 14: Buried Cords and Objects