Dowsing for Bone A Blind Test

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Michael Easter
Angi M. Christensen
Michelle Miller


Locating clandestine graves is often a significant challenge for law enforcement and other investigators. A number of search techniques can be employed including visual assessments, canines, geophysical techniques, and imaging, often depending on the location/terrain, case information, and available resources. Dowsing is believed by some to be a reliable method for locating underground items of interest including water, oil, ore, and even graves; others, however, consider the practice to be controversial or even pseudoscience. Here we assess the ability of dowsing rods (wielded by previously inexperienced dowsers) to locate buried bones using a controlled blind test. Assemblages of bones were buried in three of nine holes. A control group of participants was asked to identify which holes they believed to contain bones by visual inspection, and a test group was asked to identify which holes they believed to contain bones using dowsing rods. Results indicate that neither method had a significant relationship with the true location of the bones (Matthew’s Correlation Coefficient –0.19 for the control group and 0.00 for the test group), and that there was no significant difference between the two groups (p = 0.36). In this study, dowsing was not found to be a reliable method of detecting buried bones. Some practitioners continue to advocate dowsing or other scientifically questionable search methods, even charging investigators or families substantial fees for these services. It is therefore important that such techniques are well-understood and rigorously tested, and that investigators seek and employ methods that are appropriate and valid.

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