Getting Started

by John Baker

John is a member of Dartford & District Archaeological Group and Chairman of London & Thamesside Dowsers.

It is some five years now since I discovered that metal rods, forked sticks and the like all did funny things when I held them and walked around.  Contact with the BSD put me in touch with a real master of the art and I was encouraged to practice, practice and practice.

Archaeology has always been an interest but I never thought that I would get the opportunity to go on a dig and it never crossed my mind as I started dowsing around my local church which is part Norman.  Wherever I walked in the church grounds, the rods were reacting and as a novice it was all very confusing.Over time, things sorted themselves out and I contacted the local archaeological group, the secretary of which could dowse a bit himself.  As you cannot go digging on consecrated ground, the things that I thought were there could not be proved or disproved and I wanted proof that dowsing worked and that it was not just a figment of my imagination.

The library gave me a list of local archaeological and historical groups but I contacted people who were most likely to test my work.

In my experience dowsers are generally quiet, and retiring types not prone to pushing themselves forward.  The members of your local amateur group of diggers are of a similar nature and my entree into their world was to say that I was learning to dowse and could I visit a likely site and see what I could find.  In this instance it was an ongoing dig – Saxon burials, all exciting stuff.

On my first visit, I was treated as an oddity, to be kept at a distance and this continued for several weeks as I walked the site, measured things that showed up with the rods and drew it all up on a large sheet of paper.  Still keeping things to myself.  Gradually, curiosity took over the site diggers and one by one they accepted me for my resilience and the markings on my layout were starting to interest them.

The site was on the side of a hill and I had drawn two parallel lines about 15 ft apart going straight up the hill.  I had them down as energy lines, but we were close to what was Roman Watling Street and someone suggested that perhaps the line of the road had moved and that this was the original line.  It didn’t dowse as a Roman road so it stayed as energy lines.

The dig became too big for the local group and experts from Sussex University were brought in.  They brought in a JCB which cleared the topsoil on a wide area.A few days later the head of the local archaeological group phoned me and said that my ‘lines’ had appeared on the hill.  He was quite stunned – and so was I! I had to go to see them and there they were, just like the sketch. Underneath the topsoil, the hill was solid chalk and carved through the chalk were two long straight gullies of pebble and sand where tiny streams had once run.  Because chalk is a bad conductor of electricity, the natural energy was channelled down the gullies.This was a result!  I was no longer an oddity, I was a necessary member of the team, look at all the digging I could save them, well, not quite.

Here we start treading on eggshells, pride and local hard gleaned knowledge is at stake and no upstart with a couple of dowsing rods is going to alter good archaeological habits or reputations.

People talk and it’s not long before someone on another site is curious enough to try you out and actions speak louder than words.Disasters lurk around every corner and I have to admit to my fair share of them, but you learn from each one and your failure rate goes down with practice.

With this article is a plan of what I hope can be proved in due course to be a Roman building.  Constructed in different phases, the first section is a long rectangle with additions to one side at a later date, I believe the building to be part domestic and part commercial.  The three square blocks holding water or dye possibly for wool dyeing.  There is a small river nearby.  Everything shown on the layout has been achieved by simple dowsing, doors, windows et al.

Since starting five years ago I now help out three amateur archaeological groups plus an architectural historian and various allied interests, so how do you start?.

Stay with local organisations, be open about your aims and ask for help, you won’t be turned away but don’t expect a big welcome, after all, you’re an unknown quantity.

You’ll need to show a sense of humour and be willing to send yourself up.  Gradually you will be accepted and if you’re proved right over a dowsed piece of ground, that’s a tremendous feeling but remember don’t let it go to your head – because somewhere you’ll come unstuck.

© 2001 John Baker & BSD EEG