The Crop Circle Phenomenon

Crop circles are a worldwide phenomenon that are best described as a specific area where long-stemmed plants have been flattened to create a shape or pattern that is particularly visible from above. The most common crops selected are oats, wheat, barley and canola, (oil seed) but formations have also appeared in corn (maize) fields, in the sand of deserts and beaches and on rare occasions even in snow. Also known as agriglyphs, the most common and complex of these are generally found in Britain, are widespread from late spring to midsummer and are generally, but not always, formed at night between the hours of two and four in the morning. Researchers claim that in Britain they are concentrated in the South of England and are often quite close to water, lakes, rivers as well as aquifers and underground reservoirs.

Being a True Relation of a Farmer, who Bargaining with a poor Mower, about the Cutting down Three Half Acres of Oats ; upon the Mower's asking too much, the Farmer swore, That the Devil should Mow it, Rather than He : and so it fell out that that very Night the Crop of Oats shew'd as if it had been all of a Flame : but next Morning appear'd so neatly Mow'd by the Devil, or some Infernal Spirit that no Mortal Man was able to do the like. Also, How the said oats now ly in the Field, and the Owner has not the Power to fetch them away.

Enthusiasts point out that crop circles have been noted throughout history and were formally recorded as early as 1678. In this year a wood-cut pamphlet was published entitled 'The Mowing Devil' and told the story of how a roughly circular section of a cornfield, three acres in size, was mysteriously mowed (flattened) during the night. Flaming lights were observed and the cause was attributed to the Devil.

The phenomenon became widespread in the late 1970's, coincidentally at the height of the Cold War. The first shapes were simple circles but quickly advanced into more complex formations. Many early circles that materialised during the 1980's appear to have a strong similarity to ancient Celtic patterns. Later designs soon became highly original and in many cases unique. Nearly 50% of all crop circles in Britain that emerge annually do so within a 50 mile radius of the Stonehenge and Avebury stone formations. More than 10,000 examples have been recorded worldwide since 1978 and are steadily increasing in number and complexity.

Analysis of these crop circles by researchers has identified a number of common characteristics. Many formations are based on complex geometry and often make use of the 'golden section' and the pentagram to define their proportions. With regard to extremely complex versions they often appear in threes. Prime examples include the Star and Julia sets. Although there is significant controversy about the source of these formations it is now widely agreed that they represent intelligent design - human or unidentified.

Debunking and Debunking the Debunkers
No explanation regarding crop circles and formations should be considered complete without reference to the 'hoax' debate. To start with, the very word 'hoax' is itself both prejudiced and misleading. For a hoax to have taken place the hoaxers must have made a false claim. An example of this would be a person who fakes a photo of the Loch Ness Monster and then tries to pass it off as real and usually for personal gain. The circle makers have never made any extraordinary claims whatsoever - except when they were being paid to confess they were circle makers. It was actually enthusiastic researchers, journalists, scientists and the general public that created the perception that these phenomenon might be anything more than man-made. It is true that that they first became widespread at a time when many people in the West were deeply concerned about potential nuclear war, perceived Soviet aggression and the dramatic increase in reported UFO sightings . It's therefore very natural that people began to speculate as to the origin of these formations.

Crop circles are real. If in doubt a person can look up the most recent appearance on various websites, make some travel arrangements and within 24 hours be standing inside an actual circle. If there is a hoax then it's the way that they have been used to promote various beliefs. It's also fair to say that in many cases these beliefs are held by rational people who have conducted extensive research and analysis but with varying degrees of professionalism. However, it only takes a few people to make wild and clearly bizarre claims for the entire subject to be relegated to category of pseudo science. This is particularly disappointing given that crop formations were once considered a fair subject for true scientific study ... that is until they became inextricably linked to the UFO phenomena. After this happened most of the serious scientists abandoned the subject in a desperate bid to save their own credibility ... and careers. Worse still, many scientists who had once shown an interest suddenly started to heap scorn on the findings and studies that were, and still are, being carried out. They may be right to do so or they may be wrong. Both sides seem to claim that the others are misleading the public.

By 1990 media interest in the crop circle phenomenon was at a peak and it wasn't all positive. By this time the phenomenon had attracted some very unusual people and the media seemed delighted to parade these eccentrics for the amusement of the public.

There have been claims that this debunking was all part of a deliberate smear campaign designed to make crop circles the subject of ridicule. It is true that in 1991 the British Ministry of Defence considered trying to forbid pilots from taking pictures of the crop formations if only because it might show that they were interested. (source: The Sun Newspaper Thursday, 26 May 2011 - Military Snapped Crop Circles) There is no doubt that civilian and military authorities were aware and concerned. Ironically, it would be more mysterious if they deliberately refused to at least take a look at what was happening. They certainly didn't want to encourage it. Whether there was a smear campaign may never be revealed but whatever was happening it was effective. Public curiosity became disbelief and suddenly 'Crop Circle Crazies' were fair game.

Just when crop circle credibility was looking bad it suddenly got worse. On the 9th of September 1991 two men, Doug Bower(67) and David Chorley (62) from South Hampton announced to the world that they had invented the crop circle craze and that they were responsible having achieved it all with a length of string, some planks and a wire sighting device fixed to a baseball cap. The story was run in the tabloid newspaper 'Today' which is alleged to have paid 10,000 pounds for the exclusive. The pair were duly taken to a field and demonstrated how a very basic circle could be made in about an hour. The story made a pleasant break from the war in Iraq and the collapse of the Soviet union. It also drew a line under the crop circle craze even though it was obvious to many that two old men couldn't possibly have created all of the circles and that they were both unsure of details - to the point that they couldn't even describe how they'd designed some of the more advanced formations let alone the complex geometry. Still, it was enough. Media interest in crop circles collapsed and has remained cautious ever since.



The claims of Doug and Dave have become less-and-less credible as time has passed and very practical questions have been raised. How could the sighting device have possible worked in the dark? If one circle took an hour in daylight how were 50 simultaneous circles created over a mere 4 hour period of darkness? How could their wives have been so unaware? If they created these circles after drinking in the local pub how did they then travel to locations over six hours away, create the circles, and still get home in time for breakfast? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the British government was considering financing a serious investigation into the crop circle phenomenon. Many within the British administration felt that this was a waste of tax payers money ... It's estimated that Doug and Dave's timely confession saved the Government approximately five million pounds by today's standards. Whether Doug and Dave were telling the truth or not, there was no visible decline in the number of crop circles ... in fact they increased.

The original Doug and Dave headline claimed: "The Men that Conned the World" and perhaps they did by persuading the public that two old men could create more than 250 complex crop formations over a 15 year period. If they really did do what they claimed then they should be heralded as some of the greatest 'alternative' artists to ever come out of Britain.

Supporters have repeatedly pointed out that attempts to recreate complex crop circles under the same conditions that most of these formations have appeared have failed horribly. To be fair to both sides, it is easy for sceptics to propose solutions from the comfort of a suburban living room and just as easy for enthusiasts to claim proofs that might not exist.

The debates and investigations continue. It is true that there are now companies that specialise in making crop circles and several corporate logo's have appeared as part of clever advertising campaigns. There is no doubt that some, or even many, of the formations that appear are the work of humans although the mystery is how they do it in such a short time with such incredible accuracy. You tube is now littered with people claiming to have created crop circles - and to be wise - perhaps they should be treated to the same degree of scepticism as the formations.

The most complex (and one of the largest) formations discovered appeared on Milk Hill, Wiltshire, England during the night of the 12th of August 2001. It was comprised of a 409 circles that were aligned along six swirls to create a single large disk. The spirals are equally balanced and curve away from the centre. It is estimated that it would have taken 11 days for three competent surveyors to just establish the centres (without damaging the crop). Even allowing for covert marking-out - which in fairness might not be noticed - it would take a considerable time to create the formation itself. The maths is simple. Allow an average of twenty minutes per circle (conservative) and multiply this by 360. That comes to 120 hours or 15 working days. Even if a team of twenty people were working in perfect harmony on the formation it would still require 6 hours. Even more astounding is that the formation appeared with great precision, no signs of error and no obvious damage to the surrounding crop.



In reality, it is likely to have required the efforts of 40 - 50 exceptionally well trained people experienced in working with undercover night vision equipment, using the very latest in sophisticated surveying technology and carried out with military discipline. There's only one group with that ability and it's the ... well it's the military! Perhaps crop circle making is part of the SAS training programme? Well it's as good a theory as any. We can all have a laugh if it turns out to have been made by drunken students.

The criteria for real or fake
crop circle experts have recognised and accepted that at least a proportion of formations are being made by humans and have identified a number of criteria to distinguish between the real (unexplained) and the fake (manmade).

~The formations will appear within hours, sometimes even minutes.

~There is a lack of tracks leading to the crop circle

~The true circles are very slightly elliptical

~The stalks of the crops are bent not broken - as if they'd been heated by microwave radiation until flexible.

~In younger plants the stems nodes are often swollen - as if steam has expanded and caused the cellulose to elongate and balloon outwards. In older plants where the stem material is more rigid and brittle the internal pressure causes the nodes to explode creating a node hole.

~Some superficial charring may be noticed as if the plant stems had been exposed very briefly to an intense heat source. Soil is correspondingly dry except in the centre of each circle where it may still be moist.

~There is a disruption of the plant's crystalline structure at a microscopic level.

~Background levels of electromagnetism are higher than normal.

~Circles investigated within six hours of formation often interfere with electronic equipment.

~Newly created circles are occasionally reported to have background harmonics that fade away over a 24 to 48 hour period

~The crops are laid along the ground in neat patterns with precision alignment. Sometimes these stems appear interwoven or even plaited.

~The plants are generally undamaged and will continue to grow even though they are now flattened.

~The design of the crop formation makes use of sophisticated geometry often incorporating five-sided shapes such as pentagons and pentagrams although these are rarely used as shapes themselves.

~The presence of short-lived radioactive isotopes.

~Higher than average localised infrared readings.

A researcher examining an occurrence will use the presence of these factors to confirm that a crop formation is an unexplained phenomena. However, there is only one factor that is specifically used to suggest that a circle is manmade.

~Broken Stems

Ongoing Research

For the researchers still looking into crop formations the focus of their efforts now concentrates on determining which formations are clearly made by humans and which ones defy conventional explanations. A secondary area of research continues to analyse the patterns and methodology of underlying geometry.

Believers and Sceptics
The crop circle phenomenon is one of those subjects that manages to polarise opinions. As far as most people are concerned they're either a practical joke perpetrated by humans or they're created by beings of otherworldly intelligence - not necessarily extra terrestrials (ET's).

The believers haven't helped their case by often proposing wild theories based almost entirely on assumption, conjecture and often questionable science. Equally, the sceptics have made their own fair share of mistakes. Some of the explanations originally proposed were as unlikely as the theories they were trying to debunk. Initially the circles were said to be caused by freak whirlwinds which can produce a simple circle of flattened plants. However, it quickly became obvious that winds couldn't produce complex geometric shapes. Enter the animals. One claim even referred to wallabies that had eaten narcotic plants and then started to hop around in distinctive circles. Sex starved hedgehogs were briefly nominated as the culprits. As the circles evolved poor soil conditions were proposed and finally, regardless of the difficulties involved, human pranksters were blamed.

The main argument of the believers is that humans just don't have the ability to produce such incredible designs, with the degree of precision displayed and within such short time frames. Some of these periods being as little as 25 minutes.

The sceptics point out that just because crop formations are complex they are not impossible. They remind people that crop circle makers are probably no longer limiting themselves to lengths of string and planks of wood. It is now possible to purchase laser measuring devices and powerful night vision equipment from the local supermarket. Sceptics admit that the larger formations would require significant numbers of people working together but with practice a team of 15 - 20 people could produce most of the advanced examples.



The believers argue that even when fields are placed under sophisticated surveillance these mysterious teams of circle-makers are never identified. The sceptics question whether the 'so-called' surveillance was very good to start with and point out that watching an empty field for three nights doesn't constitute a scientific study.

The believers then usually say something like, "If you're so smart why don't you go and do one".
It's usually at this point that somebody takes off their jacket, rolls up their sleeves and suggests taking the discussion into the nearest parking lot.

Theories and Why
Entire books have been written about the origin and purpose of crop circles. Some are interesting, some are confusing and some are just bizarre. There are just too many theories to list here but the top ten most widespread and interesting are as follows:
~Although often beautiful, they have absolutely no cosmic meaning and are created by human practical jokers
~They're created by aliens who are psychologically getting humanity ready for contact
~They're created by a secret society of surviving Atlanteans
~They're a riddle set by a higher alternative intelligence
~They are reflections or penetrations from other dimensions
~They are created by fluctuations in the Earth's magnetic fields
~They're deliberate distractions created by government authorities to cover up secret military projects.
~They are produced by unconscious but collective telepathy and telekinesis
~They are holy symbols - a message from God
~They are produced by the natural energies of Gaia (Mother Earth as a collective entity)

Quo Vadis?
Even as this article was being written several crop circles have appeared in Wiltshire. New patterns and innovative designs now grace the once empty fields. The mystery continues. For the believers it's a time for new research and investigation, for the sceptics it's a pleasant break from world politics and celebrity scandals. Why they appear and who is creating them may never be answered satisfactorily but there is no denying that they're intriguing and beautiful. Even if they are just a complex joke they are still superb examples of geometric art and make the world a more interesting richer place to live.

By the way ... an anagram of 'crop formations' is 'panic from roots'