Crop circle

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A crop circle pattern

Template:Npov Crop circles are areas of cereal or similar crops that have been systematically flattened to form various geometric patterns. 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 phenomena sometimes humorously call themselves "cerealogists", after the usually known name for the pseudoscience that studies crop circles: cereology. However, for scientists, these designs are called agroglyphs.

In an unrelated phenomenon, fungal circles formed by a spreading mycelium are familiar, though on a much smaller scale. Older, larger fungal circles are not recognized when they have broken into arcs or patches. In Scandinavia and in Britain, the phenomenon of mushrooms or puffballs forming circles in a patch of meadow or pasture was referred to in folklore as älvringar, pixie circles or elf circles, and was attributed by countryfolk 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

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 the 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. An unreliable spectral hand at farmwork or housework was the province, in English folklore, of Puck. 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 ostensibly caused by the creature may be coincidental, or caused by any number of natural or human processes.

Although, the circles caused by Elves in Scandinavian folklore were usually pixie circles caused by fungus colonies, there was also a more rare kind consisting of circular patches where the grass had been flattened like a floor:

On lake shores, where the forest met the lake, you could find elf circles. They were round places where the grass had been flattened like a floor. Elves had danced there. By Lake Tisaren, I have seen one of those. It could be dangerous and one could become ill if one had trodden over such a place or if one destroyed anything there (an account given in 1926, Hellström 1990:36)

Not long after WWII, the aerial surveys that were being made over large areas of Britain revealed some unexpected phenomena, undetectable on the ground. When the surveys photographed ripening crops or drought-stressed terrain they revealed what were soon termed "crop marks", the differential ripening of the crop that revealed differences in the subsoil caused by the buried remnants of ancient buildings. Archaeological investigations were soon instigated, but, though many previously unsuspected archaeological sites were found, no crop circles were ever recorded. Skeptics argue that this would have pointed to circles as a modern phenomenon, even if the initial pranksters had not revealed themselves; believers reply different agendas may simply be at work in the modern day.

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, as well as 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 after some years more and more complex geometric patterns have emerged, sometimes really complex to elaborate.

There have been many recurring themes over the years. In general, the early formations (1970 - 2000) seemed to be based on the principles of Sacred Geometry. Later formations, those occurring after 2000, appear to be based on other principles, natural sciences and mathematics designs, including fractals.

Many crop circles have fine intricate detail, regular symmetry and careful composition denoting a high level of intelligence. Sometimes, complex crop illustrations have also appeared, including cartoon characters.

Contending beliefs

Most critical observers, and the scientific mainstream, theorize that crop circles are sniggles or hoaxes engineered by humans. This theory, supported by the documentation produced by some crop-circle hoaxers, has the advantage of not requiring us first to assume the existence of flying saucers or other as-yet-unobserved phenomena. However, there are many contending hypotheses which assume that at least some crop circles are not the products of mundane hoaxers; these hypotheses vary in their degree of scientific rigor, but all fall to some extent outside the mainstream.

One modern unscientific belief, arguably the most popular among the public, is that crop circles are created by flying saucers landing in fields and flattening a neat circle in the crop. However, the increasing complexity of formations from the 1980s on, and the implausibility of the idea that extraterrestrial beings would travel to Earth for the sole apparent reason of flattening crops, make this theory seem unlikely.

Some pseudoscientifically inclined researchers suggest that an explanation more plausible than flying saucers might be cymatics, the visualisation of vibration or sound. According to this hypothesis, the complex patterns are two-dimensional geometric or visual representations of sound frequencies, with higher sound frequencies producing more complex shapes similar to both mandalas and crop circle designs.

Another pseudoscientific 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 wilting similar to that in a crop circle. Flattened stems often have the bend just below a stem-node, and also may feature blackened burn holes indicative of intense heating. Microwave heating has been shown to be capable of producing these effects. It is postulated by believers of this theory that the U.S. 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".

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 that there are simply different hoaxers employing different techniques (and note that some crop-circle photographs are actually created using image manipulation).

Hoaxed circles

In 1991, more than a decade after the phenomena began, two men announced that many crop circles were a hoax of their doing. Doug Bower and Dave Chorley revealed that they had been making crop circles since 1978 using planks, rope, hats and wire as their only tools. Bower and Chorley 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, Bower and Chorley often retracted 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.


In July 2005 Swedish Railways AB launched an advertising campaign where the company leases space on crop fields to display adverts created by mowing crops. The campaign is aimed at air travellers since the company competes with domestic airlines for customers. Consequently the adverts are placed near the approach paths of major Swedish airports. ([3] in swedish, with links to images)


There are some methods for creating well designed crop circles. They are however relatively simple. One told that people have been creating more or less complex crop circles around the world, and we have explained that some were arrested for damaging fields. The reason of their act ? Probably to fool others in believing they were the act of some divine power, and others as pure jokes, sometimes going as far as making the crop circles into known cartoon characters. Of course, not all man-made crop circles explain the more complex designs that we have found here and there around the world. Up to day, some of the more complex designs remain a scientific problem as we cannot explain how they were elaborated.

Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon-Haunted World, noted after the exposure of Bower and Chorley's ongoing prank that "you might think that never again would it be argued that a sustained hoax over many years is impossible, and never again would we hear that no one could possibly be motivated to deceive the gullible into thinking that aliens exist."

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.

However, we must admit that 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, some so-called experts in agroglyphs suggest that there are both "natural" and hoaxed circles. A true scientist will immediately ask them, how they can proof that ?... They cannot. These" experts" suggest that "natural" ones, e.g. not claimed by anybody, 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. Here also a scientific-minded people will tell that no scientific study comes to support such sentences. Nobody has never try to reproduce the more complex designs. The reason is simple : bodody can successfully reproduce the more complex crop circles.

The hoaxing community are generally considered to be "hand-in-glove" with many people who are involved with this research. This is associated with the problem of television programs on this and similar subjects often being reduced to attention-grabbing sessions by a particular individual who will have appointed him or herself to be that particular phenomenon/topic's primary authority, thus potentially damaging the topic's credibility in the eyes of the more mainstream public. But we also have to admit that TV journalists have also a scientific background and can make a difference between a hoax and information.

Similar phenomena

Circlemaker Matthew Williams was the first circlemaker ever to be arrested and charged with criminal damage to farmers land in 2000. Since then Mattew has gone on to give many public demonstrations on how circles are made in complete darkness with simple tools such as a tape measure and board. But Matthew only designed relatively simple crops circles.

In fiction

  • In the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them -- written by JK Rowling for Comic Relief about creatures from her fictional Harry Potter universe -- it is claimed that crop circles are made by an animal called a "Mooncalf" when, as a prelude to mating, it performs a complicated dance in the moonlight on its hind legs.

Further reading

  • The Hypnotic Power of Crop Circles, by Bert Janssen, 2004. ISBN 1931882347
  • Round in Circles: Poltergeists, Pranksters, and the Secret History of the Cropwatchers, by Robin W. Allen and Jim Schnabel, 1994. 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.
  • Hellström. 1990. En Krönika om Åsbro. ISBN 91-7194-726-4
  • Crop Circles by Lucy Pringle, 2004, Pitkin (an imprint of Jarrold Publishing) (largely in favour of the supernatural explanation of Crop Circles), ISBN 1841651389.
  • Carl Sagan, 1996. The Demon-Haunted world: Science as a Candle in the Dark; "Aliens" pp 73ff.
  • DVD Documentaries Contact and Crop Circles - The Research crop circle documentaries
  • Keith Mayes on crop circles

External links

da:Korncirkler de:Kornkreis et:Viljaringid fr:Agroglyphe nl:Graancirkel ja:ミステリー・サークル pl:Kręgi zbożowe fi:Viljaympyrä sv:Sädesfältscirkel zh:麥田圈