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Crop circle

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Crop circles are areas of a grain or similar crop that have been systematically flattened to form various geometric patterns that appear in fields of crops. The phenomenon itself only entered the public imagination in its current form after the notable appearances in England in the late 1970s. People who study crop circle phenomenon sometimes humorously call themselves "cereologists".

They are, however, not an entirely unique phenomenon. In Scandinavia and in Britain, the phenomenon of mushrooms or puffballs forming circles around a patch of land was referred to in folklore as älvringar, pixie circles or elf circles, and was attributed to mystical forces. This phenomenon is both commonplace and much smaller in scale, however, and is recognized[1] as the natural growth of fungus colonies.


History of crop circles

Not long after WWII, aerial archaeological surveys were made over large areas of Britain. They photographed ripening crops to reveal crop marks, the differential ripening of the crop revealing differences in the subsoil caused by the buried remnants of ancient buildings. Though many previously unsuspected archaeological sites were found, no crop circles were ever recorded. Skeptics argue this points to circles as a modern phenomenon; believers reply different agendas may simply be at work in the modern day.

However, the earliest Crop Circle in recorded history, a 17th Century woodcut called the mowing devil is an image depicting a strange creature forming a circle in a field of corn. The legend suggests that farmer, disgusted at the rate which his usual mower was demanding for his work, insisted that he would rather have the devil do it himself. Proponents of the belief that Crop Circles are either naturally caused, or are formed by as yet unknown entities, often cite this old tale. It is worth noting, however, that this is little more than a tale - the circular formation caused by the creature may be coincidental, and the tale itself just a compelling reminder for employers to pay their staff their dues.

Crop Circles shot into prominence in the late 1970s as many circles began appearing throughout the English countryside. To date, thousands of circles have appeared at sites across the world, from disparate locations such as the former Soviet Union, the UK and Japan, not to mention the US and Canada.

Crop circle designs

Early examples of this phenomenon were usually simple circular patterns of various sizes, which led some people to speculate that it was a natural phenomenon, but in recent years complex geometric patterns have emerged. Many crop circles have fine intricate detail, regular symmetry and careful composition.

Contending beliefs

One modern unscientific, and arguably the most popular belief among segments of the public is that crop circles are created by flying saucers landing in a farmer's field and flattening a neat circle of the crop. However, the increasing complexity of formations and the implausibility of the idea that beings from another planet would travel all the way to Earth and then be unable to figure out a better course of action than vandalizing some poor farmer's field makes this theory seem unlikely. More critical observers hypothesize that these formations are sniggles or hoaxes engineered by humans. While some farmers view them as vandalism, others gain revenue from charging viewers.

For the more quasi-scientifically oriented researchers, ideas relating to cymatics (the visualisation of vibration or sound) seem to provide a more plausible explanation, the patterns produced being the 2-dimensional geometric or visual representation of the frequencies, with higher sound frequencies producing more complex shapes similar to both mandalas and crop circle designs.

Another quasi-scientific hypothesis is that a man-made satellite in Earth orbit is using some kind of beam (e.g. microwaves) to create the designs. Heating stems of wheat with a short intense burst of microwave energy can produce the similar wilting. Flattened stems often have the bend just below a stem-node, and also may feature blackened burn holes indicative of intense heating. Microwave heating can produce these effects. It is postulated by believers of this theory that the US Pentagon's "Star Wars" programme has a satellite capable of delivering such a microwave beam.

Often touted as evidence for the mystic origin of crop circles is the coincidence that many circles in the Avebury area of southern England occur near ancient sites such as earth barrows or mounds, white horses carved in the chalk hills, and stone circles. Other ideas on their formation have been proposed include; tornadoes, freak wind patterns, ball lightning, and something called "plasma vortices".

Mainstream scientists, disagreeing with the cereologists, have come to the conclusion that, as far as can be determined, the phenomenon is purely and solely the result of human beings playing pranks; this hypothesis has the advantage of not requiring us to first assume the existence of flying saucers and aliens. Most scientists are skeptical of unconventional interpretations, preferring the guidance of Occam's Razor, which would favor a mundane explanation like human activity.

A number of witnesses claim to have observed circles being created, saying that it takes a few seconds and the corn falls flat like a fan being opened, though these accounts are always anecdotal and have never been supported by additional evidence. Crop circle enthusiasts, though they do not always have scientific backgrounds or credentials, claim that there are other features of crop circles that undercut the hoax theory. They say that bends in the corn in many circles occur just below a joint, while the flattening of the corn by hoaxers produces a crack at any point in the stem, and some scientific studies on apical nodes bear them out. Also they say that flattened corn often lies in groomed layers, rather than random crushings. While there have been cases in which believers declared crop circles to be 'the real thing', only to be confronted soon after with the people who created the circle and documented the fraud, the bending issue remains in dispute. For this reason, skeptics prefer the explanation there are simply different hoaxers employing different techniques and note that some crop circles photographs were created with photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or The GIMP.

Hoaxed circles

A decade after the phenomena began, two men announced that many crop circles were a hoax of their doing. Doug Bower and Dave Chorley argued that they had been making crop circles since 1978 using planks, rope, hats and wire as their only tools. Doug and Dave stated to reporters that a small group of people can stomp down a sizeable area of crop in a single night. "Stomp" does not mean using the feet: simple tools to make crop circles have been described. [2]. However Doug and Dave would often retract their claims of which circles they hoaxed, and when confronted and asked to provide details relating to the geometric relationships of certain crop circles they would merely reply "oh we didn't do that one". This sparked suspicion that they were merely trying to confuse the issue and to make crop circles be seen as a 'fringe' or 'esoteric' field of research. the most famous group of crop circle makers founded by John Lundberg have demonstrated that making what self-appointed cerealogist experts state are "unfakeable" crop circles is possible. One such cerealogist, G. Terence Meaden , was filmed claiming that a crop circle was genuine when the night before the making of that crop circle by humans was filmed. On the night of July 11-12, 1992, a crop-circle making competition, for a prize of several thousand pounds (partly funded by the Arthur Koestler Foundation), was held in Berkshire. The winning entry was produced by three helicopter engineers, using rope, PVC pipe, a trestle and a ladder. Another competitor used a small garden roller, a plank and some rope. The size and complexity of the designs produced demonstrated the minimal equipment and preparation required to produce a crop design, lending even more credence to the hypothesis that this phenomenon is purely and solely the result of humans playing pranks.

Scientific American published an article by Matt Ridley (August 2002, p. 25), who started making crop circles in Texas in 1991. He wrote about how easy it is to develop techniques using simple tools that can easily fool (later) observers. He reported on "expert" sources such as the Wall Street Journal who had been easily fooled, and mused about why people want to believe supernatural explanations for phenomena that are not yet explained.

Methods to create a hoaxed crop circle have been well-documented on the Internet.

A counter argument to hoaxing is that where circles appear in crops mature enough that they carry seeds (as they do so often) seed-pods are unbroken, whereas trampling causes seed-pod breakage. Crop circle hoaxers counter that it is easy to leave dry seed pods unbroken during stomping and also leave no trace of entrance and egress trampling when the plants and ground are both dry and some care is taken while walking. Several crop circles that were later to have been determined to be hoaxes were at first certified as being genuine by cerealogists due to the lack of seed pod breakage. Entry to a field without leaving traces is also easy, since there always are several tracks made by the machines used to spray insecticides on the crop that people can use.


Farmers tend as a rule to be unhappy with crop circles, as they prevent the harvest of grain that has been flattened. Occasionally, perpetrators have damaged fences or other parts of farms on which they have trespassed. However people who visit the circles claim enchantment, healing, and a variety of phenomena, so whether these events are wonderful or terrible depends on particular points of view and how much one believes the farmer in question did not desire the attention.

Even today crop circle "believers" purport that there remain stubbornly odd phenomena around the circles. Some being that some circles have occurred in waist-high thistle fields that would have discouraged the most ardent hoaxer, and that there exist rigorous detailed scientific studies (see link below) examining apical node elongations and X-ray crystal diffractions in circle soil versus unaffected soil which indicate statistically near-impossible non-thermal high-energy effects. Skeptics counter that the studies are done by private organizations who have a heavy bias and who are unrespected in the academic scientific community.

Among proponents today, most suggest that there are both natural and hoaxed circles. They suggest that natural ones tend to be simple and seem untouched and seem to have unusual electromagnetic properties and that the hoaxes are more complex and have definite signs of manhandling.

The hoaxing community are generally considered to be "hand-in-glove " with many people who are involved with this research.

Similar phenomena

In fiction

In the summer of 2002 Signs, a Sci-fi movie about crop circles which was directed by M. Night Shyamalan was released and attributed sinister motives to extra terrestrials in forming the circles.

Further reading

  • Round in Circles: Poltergeists, Pranksters, and the Secret History of the Cropwatchers, by Robin W. Allen and Jim Schnabel, ISBN 1591021103.
  • Circular Evidence: Bloomsbury, London by Colin Andrews and Pat Delgado, 1989, ISBN 0747506353.
  • The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles: Scientific Research and Urban Legends, by Eltjo H. Haselhoff, ISBN 0285636251.
  • Opening Minds by Dr. Simeon Hein, ISBN 0971586306.
  • Crop Circles by Lucy Pringle, 2004, Pitkin (an imprint of Jarrold Publishing) (largely in favour of the supernatural explanation of Crop Circles), ISBN 1841651389.
  • Keith Mayes on crop circles

External links

  • Crop Circles baffle scientists: article in the Providence Journal - Rhode Island
  • Large image library
  • This site is the de facto standard for comprehensive aerial photographs of the UK's crop circles. She keeps it very up to date. If you are at all interested in finding out for yourself about crop circles visit this site, use a bit of detective work and a map to determine where the crop circles are and go visit them. Then draw your own conclusions on what you see.
  • This is an excellent introduction to crop circles, with a special emphasis on their value as art.
  • The most famous group of crop circle makers, founded by Doug Bower, Dave Chorley and John Lundberg. Full of info, including stunning patterns (such as one containing 409 circles, completed in August, 2001). Includes a beginners' guide to making crop circles.
  • Some beautiful photos of crop circles. A site that favors supernatural explanations.
  • A page devoted to researching the phenomenon of Crop Circles - albeit from a slightly biased point of view.
  • A nice summary of the supernatural explanations of crop circles.
  • Study of "inexplicable" crystalline effects in crop circle soil and apical node effects.
  • Skeptical commentary upon the previous reference.
  • An entertaining report on how an elaborate crop circle made by astronomy students at Amtsgymnasiet in Sonderborg, Sweden fooled crop circle "researchers".
  • The Skeptic's Dictionary and CSICOP links to non-supernatural articles on crop circles.
  • The Center for Scientific Investigation of Claims or the Paranormal looks at "crop circles" and is not impressed.
  • A good site to see pictures of all recent formations, updated daily.
  • A complete crop circle database site in flash with nice animations of crop circle constructions using the "ruler and compass" rule.
  • Crop circle photos at the International UFO Museum & Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico

Last updated: 05-14-2005 14:21:00