As if magically appearing overnight, massive works of art appear in fields where a crop has been flattened into patterns of circles, rings and various intricate geometric shapes.
Tan Hill in Wiltshire, England
So who created it? Alien visitors? A natural phenomenon created by electrically charged currents of air? Or are they convoluted hoaxes pulled off by brilliantly scheming circlemakers? Believers and naysayers have their own hypothesis, but the complete truth is still a mystery.
What are Crop Circles?
Crop circles are patterns appearing in fields, created when areas of the crops are tamped down, while others remain intact. Even though the stalks are bent, they’re undamaged. Some designs are simple while others are highly elaborate.
Reports of these peculiar circles in farmer’s fields have been going on for centuries, with the earliest account in the 1500′s. A 17th-century English woodcut depicts a demonic creature making a crop circle. Residents in the area dubbed the creature the “mowing devil.”
Scientist John Rand Capron reported a formation in 1880 near Guildford, Surrey, in England, describing it as “a field of standing wheat considerably knocked about, not as an entirety, but in patches forming, as viewed from a distance, circular spots. I could not trace locally any circumstances accounting for the peculiar forms of the patches in the field. They were suggestive to me of some cyclonic wind action.”
Reports of crop circles were few until they began appearing in the 1960s and ’70s in England and the United States. When a farmer in the County of Wiltshire, England, discovered three circles, about 60 feet (18 meters) across each, UFO researchers and media amassed to the farm, renewing awareness over the phenomenon.
Interest in crop circles became so supercharged in the 1990′s that they came to be a tourist attraction. More than 500 circles appeared in Europe in 1990 alone. Visitors came worldwide to catch a glimpse, and some farmers even charged admission — a lucrative business, no?
Crop Circle Designs
The basic and most common crop circle is the single circle, but two, three or four circles are also commonly found. Some are enclosed in a thin outer ring.
The stalks inside a crop circle are bent into a ‘swirl pattern’, spinning clockwise or counterclockwise, and sometimes both.
Crop circles range in size from several inches to a few hundred feet across. Most early crop circles were simple circular designs, but became more elaborate in 1990. More complex patterns are called pictograms, unlimited by the imagination — smiling faces, flowers, words, and even patterned after ancient motifs.
Some are even based on mathematical equations. One reported crop circle had an outer and an inner circle, with the area of the outer circle measuring exactly four times larger than the inner circle. The intricate shapes indicate that the circlemakers have a complex knowledge of Euclidean geometry — the geometry of a flat surface introduced by the mathematician Euclid of Alexandria.
Some circles have thin lines leading away from them called spurs, which aren’t actually part of the circle, created by farmer’s tractors.
Where They’re Found
Most circles are concentrated in the south of England, mostly in the counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire. Many have also been found near Avebury and Stonehenge. But crop circles have also been reported in the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan.
The ‘season’ for crop circles typically runs from April to September, during the growing season. Circles are usually created at night under cloak and dagger when they wouldn’t likely be seen.
Most circles are found in low-lying areas close to steep hills, possibly explaining the wind theory of their creation.
Who Creates Crop Circles?
Some claim they’re the work of UFOs, a natural phenomenon, or elaborate deceptions carried out by circlemakers.
UFO’s and Aliens
The most controversial theory is that crop circles are the work of aliens. Believers feel the circles are either the imprint left by landing spacecraft or messages brought from afar. Some eyewitnesses claim to have seen UFO-like lights and strange noises coming from crop circle sites.
Scientific theory suggests that crop circles are created by small currents of swirling winds called vortices. The spinning columns force a burst of air down to the ground, flattening the crops. Vortices are common in hilly areas in parts of southern England.
Dr. Terence Meaden of the Tornado and Storm Research Organization (TORRO) in Wiltshire, England, says the vortices that create crop circles are charged with energy — called the Plasma Vortex Theory. When dust particles get caught up in the spinning charged air, they can appear to glow, explaining the UFO-like lights many witnesses have seen near crop circles.
Some researchers theorize that small airplanes or helicopters stir up downdrafts, pushing the crops down, but attempts to replicate the perfectly round circles have failed.
Some researchers claim the earth creates its own energy to form the circles by electromagnetic radiation. Strong magnetic fields have been measured inside crop circles, with visitors sometimes reporting a tingling sensation in their body while in or near the circles.
Others say the energy comes from beneath the ground by natural energy, such as a fungus attacking crops causing their stems to bend over, or by man-made means such as bombs from World War II.
The most logical explanation is that they’re man-made with purpose to stump mankind. The most well-known pranksters are the British team Doug Bower and Dave Chorley. In 1990, the pair professed to have made hundreds of crop circles since 1978. They filmed themselves for the BBC creating a circle with a rope-and-plank apparatus in a Wiltshire field.
Joe Nickell, Senior Researcher of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) says that crop circles have all the hallmarks of hoaxes. They’re concentrated primarily in southern England; they’ve become more elaborate over the years –indicating they’re getting better at their craft; and their creators never allow themselves to be seen.
Cereologist Colin Andrews, states that about 80 percent of crop circles are probably man-made, but the remainder are likely the work of some ‘higher force.’
How to Make a Crop Circle
In general, circlemakers use the following steps:
• Create a diagram of the design. Some circlemakers create the pattern spontaneously at the site.
• Ropes and poles are used to measure out the circle.
• One circlemaker stands in the middle of the circle, turning on one foot while pushing the crop down with the other to make a center.
• The team makes the radius of the circle using a long rope tied at both ends to a 4 foot long (1.2 meter) board called a stalk stomper. One person stands at the center of the circle while the other walks around the edge of the circle, putting one foot in the middle of the board to stomp down the circle’s outline.
National Geographic contacted circlemakers John Lundberg, Rod Dickinson and Wil Russell in 2004 requesting a daylight demonstration in Wiltshire for a documentary. Using a tractor, they created the crop circle below:
Circlemakers avoid getting caught by working at night and hiding their footprints in tractor tire ruts.
Crop Circles for Profit
Some circlemakers have turned their talent into a lucrative business. Artist and filmmaker John Lundberg, Rod Dickinson and Wil Russell travel the world making crop circles for advertisements for major corporations. They won’t divulge how much they earn, but their budgets are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
How Researchers Study Crop Circles
Researchers conduct thorough investigations, practicing the following methods:
• Talking to possible eyewitnesses and residents
• Examining the location and the weather
• Examining the affected crops and the surrounding soil with sophisticated technology using X-ray diffraction analysis — firing X-rays at a sample to determine its composition
• Taking electromagnetic energy readings inside and near the crop circles
• Analyzing the circle patterns — some complicated designs are compared with hieroglyphics and ancient symbols