Ear to the Ground

Well, Cecil declined to answer, so it’s up to the teeming masses … here’s my correspondence with Cecil:

I wrote:

That got no answer, so I wrote:

Again, no joy. I followed this with:

Finally, Dex took pity on me, and wrote:

So, there 'tis, Cecil won’t or can’t answer … perhaps the Teeming Masses© know the answer …


Hey, give the guy a break. It’s not the teeming dozens that are sending him letters, it’s the teeming millions, remember? Give him ten years or so and I’m sure he’ll get to your letter too.

I can tell you from experience that you can tell if a train is coming by putting your ear to the rail. It doesn’t give you that much more warning than just listening for the train (while standing) though. Based on that, I have a hard time believing that anyone could hear a small group of riders on horseback, as is the typical Hollywood version. I can however believe that you could hear a herd of buffalo, if the ground is sufficiently hard in the area to conduct the sound fairly well. You’d probably have to look for a patch of bedrock that had been exposed by the elements, otherwise you’re just going to get an ear full of dirt.

Hey, I didn’t say Cecil should answer my question in preference to anyone elses. I just wanted to get some kind of reply, not just drop my email into a black hole. I know Cecil gets lots of questions, but a “Got your question, sorry, ask the teeming millions” reply would have been nice.


The idea, apparently, is that vibrations of large numbers of horses hooves will be audile through the ground.

Well…given tall grass, dense bushes, or tree growth, this may be a plan. The vibration would travel further than your line of sight.

Way out on the Plains, or in the Desert…nix. You could see further than that.

If one were on a winding mountain trail, it seems like it would work, since you have all of the prerequisites: terrain limiting the line of site and hard ground (rock, really) to conduct the sound. Right?

Elephants can send and detect vibrations in the ground over long distances, though I don’t know if people can.


Many thanks, Cooking, that was a most detailed and marvelous article. Seems like it might be possible after all. Maybe I’ll borrow my wife’s stethoscope and see what I can find out. (I got enough dirty ears pretending to do this as a kid.)

My great thanks to everyone who answered.