by Andy Thomas
Huge, complex and beautiful patterns are
being found swirled into crop fields around the world every year.
Their origin and purpose remains a complete mystery. Despite
attempts to dismiss them as the work of human artists, some believe
the evidence points to a much stranger explanation. Wherever they
come from, these spectacular designs often display very clear
symbolism, scientific, esoteric and astronomical, and demonstrate
some extraordinary unexplained effects.
How many appear?
Around 250 crop designs around the world appear each year on
average. Figures vary slightly from year to year, up and down.
Several thousand have been documented since records began.
Where do they appear?
Crop circles are a global phenomenon, but predominantly appear
in the Northern Hemisphere, with southern England as the main
centre of activity, particularly Wiltshire. England has played
host to around two-thirds of the recorded formations so far, but
places as diverse as Germany, Canada, North America, The
Netherlands, The Czech Republic and Russia, to name but a few,
have also recorded many appearances.
When do they arrive?
Off-season formations do sometimes occur, but by and large they
begin to appear from spring onwards until early autumn, with
most arriving during the three main summer months of any given
What crops do they appear in?
Any crop can be a potential target for the phenomenon: wheat,
barley and oilseed rape (canola) are the most common in England,
being the main varieties grown, but they have also been reported
in rye, oats, flax, peas, potatoes, sweet-corn maize and many
other mediums, including rice paddies in Japan. Formations have
also been found in wild grass, bracken and other
How large are crop circles?
Size can vary from circles of just a foot or so across
('grapeshot'), to designs covering many hundreds of feet.
A Brief History of
When two retired English pranksters, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley,
claimed in 1991 to have invented the crop circle phenomenon as a
joke a decade or so earlier, they couldn't have been aware that
almost 300 documented formations predated their alleged exploits.
Reports go back centuries and a seventeenth century illustration
even shows the figure of the Devil creating what certainly looks
like the type of marking in fields which began to attract serious
attention from the 1980s onwards.
Swirled into growing crops, these circular indentations of carefully
flattened stems looked at first like the result of freak whirlwinds.
Some were a few feet across, but others were the size of tennis
courts. It wasn't long before the appearance of symmetrical patterns
and other unusual variations began to throw the weather theories
By the late 1980s, rapidly increasing numbers and seemingly evolving
designs, still based largely on circles, had begun to capture the
public imagination. Tantalized by reports of glowing lights and
other bizarre phenomena associated with the circles, everyone from
UFO buffs to eminent scientists was trying to unravel the mystery.
In 1990, the arrival of 'pictograms', long symbolic chains of
circles, rectangles and rings gave the crop circles their place in
history. Newspapers and television channels eagerly reported these
astonishing patterns. But the claims of Doug and Dave and other
supposed hoaxers soon left the media disillusioned.
Despite this, crop formations continue to be discovered in designs
of growing sophistication and size which leave many convinced that
there is an unexplained force at work.
There has been intense debate over the circles' origins. Some
believe they are communications from extra-terrestrials, pointing to
the many sightings and videos of aerial phenomena seen in connection
with crop formations. Others feel the lights may be the properties
of an unknown natural energy which produces complex ground patterns.
Others still have cited everything from Mother Earth to nature
spirits being responsible. Experiments with the power of the mind
have suggested it is possible to influence the creation of certain
shapes, leading some to believe psychic forces are involved.
Beyond this, most other popular explanations for the crop circles
have revolved around human activity, either involving satellite
technology or, more usually, the simple actions of pranksters and
landscape artists. However, in demonstrations, human teams have
struggled to reproduce designs as geometrically complex as many seen
in the fields or have taken long hours to produce anything
Certain formations have been shown to
have appeared within very short periods of time and the geometrical
calculation and construction required for some simply could not be
carried out in one night. Biological anomalies and irreproducible
effects such as nodal bending (where the 'knuckles' on stems are
bent at strange angles to effect certain shapes in the lay) are
always absent from man-made designs.
Some of the patterns have shown breathtaking symbolic qualities. In
1994, for instance, several galaxy-shaped glyphs displayed a
conjunction of planets over the star constellation Cetus as it would
be in April 2000, and in 1995 an accurate diagram of the Earth's
inner solar system was discovered. However, despite these few shapes
which appear to denote dates and astronomical conjunctions, most
others remain obscure and are open to interpretation, seeming to
reflect multi-cultural symbolism.
Work by laboratories on circle-affected crop has shown biological
changes taking place at a cellular level, suggesting the involvement
of microwave energy. Other physical tests have shown anomalies not
yet replicated by man-made experiments. These, together with the
lights, eye-witness accounts, reports of malfunctioning electronic
equipment and health effects on people visiting circles, suggest the
phenomenon should be looked at far more closely.
Whether the crop formations are warnings, messages of greeting or
abstract doodles remains to be seen. As they amaze and frustrate in
equal measure with their stunning beauty, no doubt they will
continue to create further controversy. Even within the crop circle
research community itself, there has been much intense debate,
disagreement and division - but also much positivity and
inspiration, sparked by the deep questions raised and by the simple
influence of beauty in people's lives.
Stories, Facts and Figures
There are around two dozen
eye-witness accounts of crop circles forming. All describe
similar events; an invisible force coming out of nowhere in
otherwise calm conditions and spinning the crops down within
seconds, usually with surprising violence - yet little damage is
found in the laid crop. Tornado-like funnels, light phenomena
and high-pitched whistling sounds have also been reported.
Quick on the draw:
In July 1996, a 915 feet spiral of
151 circles appeared in full view of the busy A303 road,
opposite England's ancient monument Stonehenge, Wiltshire,
within a 45 minute period one Sunday afternoon. A pilot,
gamekeeper and security guard confirmed it had not been there
before 5.30pm - yet shortly after 6.00pm, the massive formation
was being spotted by passing tourists. Much smaller man-made
designs have taken several hours to complete. This also
disproves the myth that all crop circles appear by night.
Longest crop formation:
This occurred at Etchilhampton,
Wiltshire, in 1996 - a chain of circles and pathways
approximately 4100 feet long crossed from one end of a field to
"Lion" and/or the Hebrew character "ZaYiN" =
meaning "projection" or perhaps "seeding".
13 beautiful crop circles (like a chakra necklace)
were linked together by a 'Meditation Path'. The
"flaming letter" with "tear drop" was located in a
separate formation (between the 6th & 7th chakra?)
to one side of the long path. The Path formation was
extraordinarily laid, each circle was simultaneously
formed as the Path was being generated through it.
Largest design and most circles in one formation:
The record for both these qualities
is currently held by the huge motif at Milk Hill, Wiltshire,
August 12th 2001 - 409 small circles made up a staggering
six-armed design of around 800 feet diameter.
Largest expanse of laid crop in one design:
A seven-petalled mandala which
appeared at Alton Barnes, Wiltshire, in 1998 contained an
unbroken flattened area covering 6000 square meters.
Most geometrically perfect formation:
Most would agree that the formation
at Windmill Hill, Wiltshire, in 1996 takes this award - an
endless procession of perfect equilateral triangles, from large
to small, could be drawn by overlaying geometrical shapes onto a
triple-armed spiral of 194 circles covering around an area of
600 feet diameter. If just one of the main circles or arms had
been even slightly misplaced, this geometry would not have
Most visited formation:
Stonehenge, 1996 - it is estimated around 10,000 people entered this
pattern once it was opened to the public by the farmer, partly
through being so visible next to such a major landmark.
Most publicized formation:
Alton Barnes, 1990 - many global
newspapers and TV stations reported the appearance of this, the
first of the large pictograms.
Work by W C Levengood, a respected
Michigan-based biophysicist, has shown notable biological
changes taking place inside circle-laid stalks, which could be
attributable to some kind of microwave energy. No man-made
demonstration formation has ever produced these results, yet the
majority of the hundreds of crop circles sampled have proved
positive in this regard.
Levengood's papers have been
published in scientific journals and his work has been
replicated by other laboratories working with the US-based BLT
Research organization. In 1995, tests on crop formation soil
samples were conducted by ADAS, a division of the English
Ministry of Agriculture. Although preliminary, they showed
distinct anomalies in the nitrogen/nitrate ratios which could
not be explained. There have been other scientific tests carried
out by different bodies over the years which have produced
peculiar unexplained qualities.
There have been many reported
effects on people's health, sometimes of cures, sometimes of
ailments, which have come on while within crop circles. Animals
sometimes behave strangely in crop formations. Electronic and
mechanical equipment, videos, cameras and even combine
harvesters have also been known to malfunction in very odd ways,
far above the average one would expect from chance.
As yet, there is a resistance to mass acceptance of the crop
formations as anything other than a man-made joke, despite all the
evidence pointing in another direction for at least a proportion of
the glyphs. To accept that crop circles come from beyond physical
human realms means reassessing many things accepted as 'normality'.
It means taking seriously the big question of what or who is making
Some believe we already have enough
evidence to have reached that point, but the general public seems
happier to treat the phenomenon as harmless art. Those who make our
rules for us also seem to prefer it that way. Many others feel,
however, that the circles are heralds of some major changes for our
planet and civilization, marking either a tumultuous era of upheaval
or some kind of spiritual renaissance.
Whatever the truth, there is no doubt the crop circles have left an
indelible mark upon our culture, inspiring with their visual beauty
and mystery, and have profoundly affected many people's lives...