Scam Alert: The Human Remains Detector

Over in East Tennessee a guy named Art Bohanan has created what he calls “The Human Remains Detector”. To demonstrate how it works he went with the media to an old cemetery in Knoxville and proceeded to find bones beneath his feet. This happened last Dec 2021.

A local news outlet ran the story and there you can see it in action.

The news report is rather uncritical and simply presents it as a new scientific device that supposedly works. The text there contains this gem …

The device uses technology similar to how dowsing rods are meant to work

If you are familiar with dowsing then about here would be the correct point for you to proceed to facepalm. In other words, it does not work.

This is dowsing with extra bells and whistles tossed in

Instead of your usual bits of wire, you have bent bits of spring, a fancy-looking handle, and wires coming out of it to craft the illusion of sciency looking kit (see picture at the top of the posting).

Art proceeds to wander around the old cemetery … “There’s nothing over here between them, but when you move it back over here, it’s an instant response,“.

I’m shocked I tell you, shocked, that he successfully detected human remains under the ground in an old cemetery right next to a gravestone. How did he ever manage that?

Once he has located the body, he then uses a second bit of “high technology” that consists of a plastic orb hanging from a bit of fishing line. As he holds it, if it moves clockwise the body is female, and of course a rotation the other way means it is a boy. Oh, and let’s not forget that he also claims that the speed of rotation indicates age.

My immediate thought would be asking what happens if the person is either gay or trans, or for that matter, how it detects the gender of the person under the ground and not the gender of the person holding the bit of plastic on a fishing line. However, since it does not really work then we don’t need to ponder over any of that.


In a media context, it is traditional to strive for balance by explaining the full conversation.

For “balance” they wheeled in another crank named Arpad Vass, whom they declared was a “scientist”. He actually is, but he is also is the go-to guy for dowsing. He really is into stuff like this. Sadly not in a scientific way, but rather in a full crank-mode manner.

Their subject matter “expert”, Mr. Vaas made these deeply weird claims …

Bohanan is “using antenna to determine or find and locate that electric field that’s associated with bone.”

Vass has developed his own device to find specific people — and other material. He said that it searches for specific frequency waves to find sites where remains could be buried.

His “Quantum Oscillator” works by placing a piece of someone’s DNA — a tooth or a lock of hair, for example —  inside a frequency-blocking chamber in the base of the device. With the help of technology inside the device, it uses frequency waves to probe the environment around to find a match. 

He said his patented device works over great distances — up to 75 miles — and can be used to find other objects besides people. 

“It’s not always a person, it could be a goldmine, dinosaur bone, whatever I am looking for at that moment,” he laughed.

“All the doubters out there, they can doubt all they want,” Vass said. “I mean, go get a patent and see how hard that is.”

Side note: You can in fact patent things without actually demonstrating that they actually work. For example, here is a patent for a star trek style warp drive.

Who is Art Bohanan?

Art Bohanan is an elderly retired guy who popped up back in 2018 with the exact same claim. His claim then was that he had invented a device that would enable him to locate bodies. For that outing, he wandered around a graveyard with the media there to watch and record. Three years later we have a replay.

Is any of this Credible?

The quick short answer is this – no.

I’ve covered the topic of dowsing not too long ago. Back last July I was writing about a “scientific device” that could detect explosives. That was sold to police in Iraq for rather a lot of money and was used at checkpoints. Needless to say, it was a con and people died after it failed to work. The guy who sold it to them went to jail.

The claim that dowsing works can, and has been tested.

In 1990 a proper double-blind test was conducted in Germany. This was run by the Gesellschaft zur Wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften(Society for the Scientific Investigation of the Parasciences).

What they did was bury a series of pipes in a field. These were at a depth of roughly two feet down. They did not make it too challenging, the location of the pipes was marked on the surface. The catch here was this. Water would flow randomly through some of the pipes, not all of them. The dowsers being tested were asked to detect which pipes the water was actually flowing through.

Over a period of three days about 30 dowsers participated. They all agreed that it was a fair test of their abilities and even signed a statement prior to the test confirming this. They were also highly motivated. There was a prize of $10,000 on offer if they were able to successfully demonstrate that their claimed dowsing ability was real.

What happened?

I’m sure you can guess. Nobody demonstrated anything beyond random chance and so nobody won the prize.

If curious to know more, there is a translation of a posting by those that ran this that explains it all in detail with pictures.

Where can I find out more about dowsing?

The Wikipedia article on the topic is a rather good primer.

There we discover this truth …

Dowsing is a pseudoscience and the scientific evidence is that it is no more effective than random chance.[6][7] Dowsers often achieve good results because random chance has a high probability of finding water in favourable terrain.[8] The motion of dowsing rods is now generally attributed to the ideomotor phenomenon,[9][10][11] a psychological response where a subject makes motions unconsciously. Put simply, dowsing rods respond to the user’s accidental or involuntary movements.

Some final thoughts

We humans are rather good at fooling ourselves. Those who practice dowsing sincerely believe that what they do really works, you need not doubt that. Art has successfully fooled himself in a similar manner. He even tells you that when he explains that his technology is based upon “dowsing technology”.

Many things in life are like this, we grasp and cling on to concepts that sound and feel right, but when tested, are discovered to not be right at all. Often those making such claims are so deeply invested in the idea or claim that when faced with failure then they remain anchored to the idea. What happens is that they will rationalize such failure via thoughts that flow follows – I must have missed a step that day; the electric field from the camera must have disturbed things; the negative energy from the skeptics watching dampened the effect; it only works when conditions are just right and they were not right that day; etc…

Why does this happen?

Well, because whatever it is, it is usually something that brings meaning and so coming to terms that it is not real is a thought that simply can’t be embraced.

Art is an elderly retired guy and so this is all he now has. It brings him media attention, golden moments in the spotlight. He is simply never going to be able to accept that he has fooled himself.

The one person who will successfully fool you is yourself. Make peace with that fact, it is part of the human experience. Be open to the possibility of being wrong.

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