Art of Dowsing

Sue explained how she was introduced to dowsing; the tools you can use and various sites where dowsing surveys have been validated by excavation or geophysics.

The need to find out more about two mottes and a bailey on the edge of Hamstead Park, was the reason Sue discovered dowsing. A Garden Historian, Ted Fawcett, was advisor to the National Trust and lectured at the Architectural Association; he also dowsed lost garden designs and ancient sites. Using his Y rod he surveyed the two mounds and the DMV area. The first motte he dowsed he proposed that a wooden fort had stood on top of a prefabricated mound, while the other bigger motte, surrounded by a ditch and bank, he thought was older and contemporary with Silbury Hill. The DMV area appeared to have a series of ‘tree pits’, spaced at ten pace intervals. This was later verified by an RCHME geophysical survey.

So began a steep learning curve in archaeology and dowsing.

Newbury College ran a dowsing workshop, where Sue learnt about using ‘L’ rods made from coat hangers, which amplify the response in her hands, when dowsing for water, gas, electricity and telephone cables. The art of ‘Map dowsing’ was taught too. She attended a workshop in Cumbria, run by Prof Richard Bailey, who wrote an excellent book called ‘Dowsing and Church Archaeology’.

Dowsing is very practical and though not often admitted to, is used by water companies to find lost pipes, or by mining companies to find minerals or oil. In Christopher Bird’s comprehensive book, ‘The Divining Hand’, a dowsing search by an electrician at Harvard Law school was mentioned and also the US military looking for Viet Kong tunnels.

The importance of accurately recording dowsing surveys was emphasized. Bamboo sticks, coloured flags on wire rods, or weighted sheeting strips can all be used to mark the outline of ditches, track ways or earlier buildings found by dowsing. These can be related to a datum point or line or a grid of squares. GPS can also be used to plot a survey and relate it to later geophysics survey or excavation.

Examples of dowsing surveys that had been verified later were shown. A Roman road was dowsed and the Agger was found in one field. A Roman temple was found at Waltham St Lawrence and at Avebury on Waden Hill, a group of burials was dowsed and proved to lie under a round barrow discovered by a geophysical survey.

A demonstration of how to use dowsing rods followed. Sue suggested that it is best to start with the water supply to the house or drains running from the house. As you gradually gain confidence you can find the direction the water is flowing. Water Diviners are able to accurately describe the depth of the top and bottom of the aquifer, the measurements of the strata the driller must go through to reach the water, how many gallons per minute are available.

At the end of Sue’s illustrated talk, we were able to try our hands at dowsing in the Garden Room and most of us had a response from the dowsing rods, it was a very enjoyable and informative talk.

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