An Introduction to Crop Circles
Since at least the early 1950s, circles of flattened crop have been found in fields around the world, and rings have appeared in snow and ice. In the early 1990s, circles and rings became simple pictograms, and later, intricate symbols and complex geometric patterns. Though many now dismiss the formations as man-made hoaxes inspired by a pair of artists in Hampshire, England, analysis of the affected plants and soil shows that the genuine circles could not have been laid by hand. Whatever hoaxes occur today, science can distinguish them from a much older phenomenon that is not so easily explained.
Researcher Terry Wilson has documented over 300 circles before the 1980s, and argued that the phenomenon is probably centuries old, and global. An English pamphlet from 1678 tells of a farmer who saw a fiery light in his field the night he said he'd rather the devil mow his crop than hire a prospective worker. The following morning, the farmer found his oats chopped cleanly at the ground and laid in a spiral. The next circle to be documented was found two centuries later. In 1880, an English citizen scientist wrote to the journal, Nature, describing several distinct circles of flattened, swirled crop in a field of wheat, each with a few standing stalks in the centre.1 Farming families in countries around the world claim to have seen these circles for generations, especially in England. Few of these were documented until the late 20th century, but in 1937, a British archeological journal published a report on 3 and a half clearly-defined circles of "beaten down" crop in a field of barley, and included the first ever photo of a possible circle.2
Circles got more attention in the 1950s when they appeared with UFOs. In 1952, the US Air Force examined a circle of neat, concentric rings of flattened grass where a man saw a UFO in Kansas.3 In 1963, a farmer in, England, found a hole in his field like an impact crater, and several circles of flattened wheat in the adjoining fields. The astronomer Patrick Moore inspected one of these formations and wrote in New Scientist that it had "well-defined" edges, a spiral lay, and a few standing stalks in the centre.4 In 1965, 27 different circles appeared in a South Dakota wheat field, all swirled clockwise.5 Many circles were found in Australia: In 1966, a farmer near Tully in Queensland saw a saucer-shaped object rise from a swamp and leave a swirl of bent reeds on the surface of the water. More circles were found elsewhere in the swamp. The next year, the Canadian Department of Defence investigated three circles in Alberta, and in 1979, Chris Rutkowski published the world's first article on the "ring phenomenon" in Manitoba.6 But circles rarely got major media attention, and were generally considered to be a side-effect of UFO activity.
In 1976, a farmhand in Hampshire, England found a circle in a field of wheat, then two years later, he found a group of five, and took a picture. In 1980, the Wiltshire Times published a photo of three circles laid in oats, which caught the attention of meteorologist Terrence Meaden. Meaden suggested that crop circles were laid by stationary whirlwinds, and later, by an electromagnetic "plasma vortex," but they had many features that were hard to explain as effects of nature.7 In 1981, two more clockwise swirls were discovered at Seven Barrows, an ancient burial site near Oxford, each the same diameter, and at the same relative angle as the burial mounds. The circles were within clear sight of a busy road, but strangely, no one saw them form. In July, three clockwise circles arranged in a line were found in a natural amphitheatre called Cheesefoot Head, near Winchester. Pat Delgado, a retired electro-mechanical engineer, visited the site, and started researching the circles.8 He later collaborated with Meaden, as well as Colin Andrews, an electrician, and Busty Taylor, a private pilot who flew them around to look for new formations. Together, they pioneered the science of crop circles, called cereology after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.
After a few years of research, cereologists made some astonishing discoveries. First, they discovered that flattened plants are almost never broken. Instead, they're bent 90° at the ground, where the stalks are the hardest. This is even true of circles found in Canola, or rapeseed, which snaps when bent. Crops are laid in one continuous, flowing pattern maintained throughout the formation, and they continue to grow at the angle they were laid. They take several days to bend up again, and are resistant to being raised by hand. Many circles have decorative arrangements in their centres, and walls are distorted where they run into tram lines, as if the agent laying the crop got pulled into the gap and then rebounded.9 Stalks are often lightly charred, as if flash-burned, and flies are found melted onto wheat heads.10 Genuine formations are always spotless on the first visit: free from footprints even in the mud, and with no paths of trampled crop to the field's end, like the ones that visitors leave.
The phenomenon is global, though most of the world's formations occur in southern England. Here, formations tend to appear near sites of historical significance, such as ancient burial mounds and Roman ruins. Many are found near Stonehenge, for example, and Silbury Hill. Most circles appear close to bodies of water - man-made ponds, or subterranean aquifers - and more frequently where the water table is closest to the surface. They also tend to appear in areas with large military installations. Military helicopters have several times been seen inspecting formations. Delgado and Andrews have both been chased from fields by British helicopters, and the US military once ploughed a circle in Kansas and covered it in shredded crops.11 People experience a range of anomalous phenomena in connection with the circles: strange artifacts appear on photographs, compasses lose their bearing, batteries are drained, and engines die, only to restart outside the circle.12 Many hear loud crackling noises, and a buzzing, humming, or trilling sound. Researchers experience time distortions in circles, and many people have pronounced physiological responses to entering them, ranging from nausea and vomiting to pain relief and healing.13
In the mid 1980s, the circles evolved. Some appeared with rings, and different lays: some were rotated counter-clockwise, some were S-curved, and others were laid in layers. Some stalks were pressed only halfway to the ground, or bent halfway up the stalk, and a few circles even grew larger, or changed their lay since being found. Whenever Delgado's team made note of something that all circles had in common, a new formation would break the rule, leading the group to believe that they were interacting with an intelligence. In August of 1986, Busty Taylor was flying near Cheesefoot Head when he said he wished to see all the formations they'd found to date appear in the shape of a Celtic Cross. The next morning, the team found exactly that in the field over which Taylor said it.14 Many others have had similar success with manifesting circles, intentionally or otherwise, or sensing their shape in advance.15 In the summer of 1989, a team of over 30 researchers staked out Cheesefoot Head for 10 days straight. One night, while attempting to initiate contact with the source of the phenomenon in a preexisting circle, they heard a strange chirping sound that moved around the formation and seemed to be interacting with their thoughts. They also saw a light in the surrounding crop, and Delgado was dragged backwards by an unseen force. Andrews and George Wingfield, co-founder of the Centre for Crop Circle Studies, recorded the sound later that night. The next day, they found a new circe less than 500 meters from the one they'd been in.16
In the mid 1980s, a lab in France began studying plant samples from the English circles, and found that the nodes were elongated and frequently blown open.17 Ufologist Jean-Jacques Velasco explained at the meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration in 1989 that the plants had been hit with a high heat, which caused the moisture inside to turn to steam and burst through the nodes to escape. Two labs in England concluded that a "fierce" and "quick" heat had denatured the soil samples, and changed the stem structure of the affected plants.18 American biophysicist William Levengood found changes in the structure and the growth patterns of affected seeds, and in some cases, electrical charges in the plants. Levengood also found that one could reproduce the node changes by heating plants for 30 seconds in a microwave. In 1992, he founded the BLT research team with John Burke and Nancy Talbott. Building on Meaden's work, the team suggested that the circles are formed by ejections of ion plasma vortices that fall from the ionosphere and rotate in the Earth's magnetic field, releasing microwave radiation that heats the plants and bends them.19
Delgado and Andrews published the first book on circles in 1988, and another in 1990. The same year, the writer John Michell founded the first journal, The Cereologist, and Meaden held the first conference in Oxford.20 Cereology was beginning to attain some credibility in the public eye, but it lost it all in the next few years. in 1990, Delgado and Andrews were running a surveillance operation in Wessex when they announced a new formation. A crew of reporters raced out to the circle with their cameras rolling, only to discover a crude fake, complete with hoaxing tools and an astrology board game. It was a hit to cereology's reputation, but the death blow came the next year: in 1991, the London paper, Today, ran a story on two artists named Doug Bower and David Chorley who said that they had been hoaxing the circles in southern England for 13 years by flattening crop with ropes and boards. Today invited Delgado to inspect a formation that it claimed was Bower and Chorley's creation. Delgado declared it a genuine circle, but after Today had the duo tell him their story, he allegedly admitted that he'd been fooled, and agreed that the crop circle phenomenon had been debunked. Though he changed his mind the following day, the Today story was picked up around the world, and papers and TV stations everywhere declared an end to the crop circle mystery.21
Consensus opinion in mainstream science and journalism is that Bower and Chorley's story is true, but it does not stand up to scrutiny. First, they repeatedly failed to demonstrate their skills in circle-making. The first circle that they made for the cameras was extremely crude. The wheat stalks were broken and piled up in tangled bunches, and the path connecting the two circles was not aligned with their centres. The duo constructed a more elaborate formation in 1992, and again, the path connecting the circles was off centre, and the satellite circles were visibly misaligned. In 1998, Bower appeared on a BBC program in which he attempted to reproduce a relatively simple circle found nine years prior. He accidentally made the circle twice as large as it should have been, then gave up, asking another team of hoaxers to finish the job. It's difficult to believe that two men who had made at least 200 impeccably-produced circles over 13 years could have lost their skills so quickly.
Second, a number of Bower and Chorley's claims are spurious and self-contradicting. Bower has given two contradictory accounts of how he and Chorley decided to make their first circle, and at least two different accounts of how his wife discovered their work. When asked how he avoided trampling crop walking between unconnected circles, he made the absurd claim that he poll-vaulted between them. Still, all known fakes are found strung together with paths of trampled crop, unlike the real ones. The plans that the men showed to reporters contained measurements that did not match the corresponding circles, and that would not have made the right angles. Finally, it's impossible for anyone to have made circles the way Bower and Chorley said they did, since flattening plants with a board invariably breaks the stalks, and produces none of the most puzzling biological effects, like the blown nodes or burns. Viewed from the ground, a hoaxed formation is easy to tell from a genuine circle.
Nevertheless, Bower and Chorley inspired imitators, including John Lundberg and Rob Irving. Hoaxers now make upwards of 95% of circles around the world, and claim to have made them all, but no hoaxes have the features of a genuine formation, and no team of hoaxers has been able to successfully recreate a circle they took credit for. And of course, crop circles were around long before 1978, when Bower and Chorley claim to have started them. Many circles are hoaxes, but many still are not.
In the early 1990s, crop formations took on new designs. 1991 saw a giant tetrahedron occupying 11,000 square meters, a fractal pattern called the Mandelbrot Set, and a strange code or script.22 The number of genuine circles dropped after Bower and Chorley's revelations, but there were more than ever in 1994, with 110 reported formations. 1995 saw the appearance of several maps of the solar system, and the year after saw the Julia-Set, made up of 149 different circles. The set was found within clear sight of StoneHenge, but not seen until the evening, only 45 minutes after a pilot and his passenger had flown over the area and seen nothing.23 A triple Julia Set appeared later that summer.24 After 1997, circles incorporated more complex geometry, and depicted 3D shapes. In the early 2000s, they played with perspective and illusion. By then, there had been about 10,000 genuine circles reported in 26 different countries.25 All circles relied heavily on naturally-occurring mathematical concepts like the Golden Ratio, and featured esoteric symbols like Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Buddhist Chakras, and the Qabbalistic Tree of Life. In southern England, circle activity peaked in 2009, and has been declining ever since, though formations still appear around the world.26 Not all formations are laid in vegetation; rings have also been carved into sheets of ice, or drawn in snow.27
A number of researchers have noted that formations appear at the intersection of channels of earth energies that Guy Underwood called geodetic lines, though the existence of these lines is rejected by mainstream science. BLT has shown that English circles appear most often where a giant, electrically-charged underground chalk aquifer is closest to the surface. In fields with frequent circle appearances, BLT has measured magnetic currents that dissipated after the appearance of a circle.28 The roots of plants in circles are also known to grow out in the opposite direction of the flattened stalk, suggesting a local change in the Earth's magnetic or gravitational fields.29 Some people claim to have seen circles being created. Witnesses claim that the crop is laid in a single, fluid motion, with no visible cause, and that clouds of steam or mist are created in the process. Some say it takes a few seconds, some a few minutes. People frequently see UFOs before or after a circle's appearance, and many see little balls of light: several times these balls of light have been filmed and photographed.30 People also see columns of light before a circle's appearance, and have photographed these as well.31
There are many theories on the creative force behind the circles. Velasco and ufologist Jacques Vallée suggested that the British military created the circles in trying to calibrate a secret focused microwave beam technology, but many feel that the makers are not human. Andrews stated that he believes the circles are manifested by some intelligent Earth force capable of interacting with human consciousness.32 Meaden eventually admitted that the more complex modern designs could not have been made by plasma alone, and retired from crop circle research. Freddy Silva, who worked with Andrews, has argued the crops are laid with the use of sound. A number of experimenters dating back to the late 18th century have shown that when a fine granular substance is placed on a surface vibrating at a consistent tone, it arranges itself into complex geometric patterns. Flattened crops may be similarly patterned after inaudible vibrations.33 Delgado died in 2009, but Andrews and Taylor continue their studies, and Nancy Talbott continues the work of her passed colleagues at BLT. Notable researchers today include Terry Wilson, Lucy Pringle, Freddy Silva, and Richard Taylor, among others.
While hoaxes are common, it is quite clear that some circles, at least, are something more than human art. Trampling crop by mechanical means results in broken stalks, not bent ones, and it does not stretch a plant's nodes, or blow them open. All evidence points to the fact that the plants in crop circle formations have been subjected to intense, but short and selective heating, as if by a plasma vortex, or focused microwave beam. Whether this force is natural, military, or of some unknown origin altogether, is still up for debate, but it started long before the hoaxers.
Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews. Circular Evidence: a Detailed Investigation of the Flattened Swirled Crops Phenomenon. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd., 1989.
Lucy Pringle. Crop Circles: The Greatest Mystery of Modern Times. London: Thorsons, 1999.
Freddy Silva. Secrets in the Fields: The Science and Mysticism of Crop Circles. Portland, ME: Invisible Temple Publishing, 2013.
Terry Wilson. "1932 - Bow Hill, Chichester, West Sussex, England," in The Secret History of Crop Circles: Recording the Phenomenon In Days of Old. Paignton, UK: Terry Wilson, 2015.
John Burke. "The Physics of Crop Formations." MUFON Journal (October, 1998): 3-7. Accessible at: http://www.bltresearch.com/published/physics.html
BLT's summary of plant abnormalities: http://www.bltresearch.com/plantab.php
William C. Levengood and Nancy P. Talbott. "Dispersion of Energies in Worldwide Crop Formations." Physiologia Plantarum 105 (1999). Accessed November 2, 2018: http://www.bltresearch.com/published/dispersion.php
Nancy Talbott. "Two Largest Snow Formations Yet Reported." BLT Research.com. Accessed November 2, 2018: http://www.bltresearch.com/robbert/snow09.php.
Jacques Vallée's thoughts on Crop Circles:
"In Search of Alien Glyphs (or are they microwave blasters?)." Boingboing (March 23, 2010): https://boingboing.net/2010/03/23/in-search-of-alien-g.html
"Crop Circles, Part Deux: Alien Glyphs, Human Myths, Blogging Bliss." Boingboing. April 8, 2010: https://boingboing.net/2010/04/08/crop-circles-part-de.html
Other Text sources:
John Rand Capron, letter to the editor, Nature 22 (May - October, 1880): 290 - 291.
"The Men Who Conned the World." The original story on Bower and Chorley in Today, London, September 9, 1991. Reproduced in full at:
Michael Chorost and Colin Andrews. "The Summer 1990 Crop Circles." Beyond Weird. Accessed November 2, 2018: https://www.beyondweird.com/occult/circle90.html
Crop Circles: The Human Experience. Interview with Colin Andrews, by Diane M. Cooper. Accessed November 2, 2018: http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/dec2/andrews.htm
"Fraud by Deception: The Truth about Colin Andrews, the Walter Mitty of the Crop Circles."Questions about Colin Andrews' accreditation by Candi Sworlen: https://digitalseance.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/colin-andrews-crop-circle-charlatan.pdf
"Is the Conduit Closing On The Wiltshire Phenomenon?" Crop Circle News and Archives.Accessed November 2, 2018: http://cropcirclewisdom.com/crop-circle-diaries/is-theconduit-closing-on-the-wiltshire-phenomenon
Interview with Doug Bower in Circlemakers, a documentary by Matthew Williams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfKArCWpKWE
Story on Bower and Chorley's claims on Coast to Coast, a TVS news program, September 9, 1991: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETprYIAqQ5E
Special report on Circle-making on Countryfile, a BBC news program, 1998: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VShMwpqTzaY
1 John Rand Capron, letter to the editor, Nature 22 (May - October, 1880): 290 - 291. Available at: http://www.iccra.org/Historical%20Research/Storm%20Effects_Nature_1880_J_Rand_Capron.pdf
2 Terry Wilson. "1932 - Bow Hill, Chichester, West Sussex, England," in The Secret History of Crop Circles: Recording the Phenomenon In Days of Old. Paignton, UK: Terry Wilson, 2015. A summary of the case is also available on Terry's website: https://oldcropcircles.weebly.com/uk-1932-bow-hill.html
3 Wilson, "Chapter 2: The Early Years," in The Secret History of Crop Circles.
4 Wilson, "Chapter 3: The 1960s," in The Secret History of Crop Circles. A summary of the case is also available on Terry's website: https://oldcropcircles.weebly.com/uk-1963-charlton.html; Patrick Moore, Letter to the editor, New Scientist 19, no. 351 (August 8, 1963): 304. This edition of New Scientist is available online at: https://books.google.ca/books?id=Li2yywAQEP0C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.
5Jeffrey Wilson. "Velben Township, South Dakota, August 11, 1965," in Project Blue Book: Crop Circle Case Files. Independent Crop Circle Researchers Association. Available at: http://www.iccra.org/bystate/South%20Dakota/8_11_1965%20Veblen%20Township,%20South%20Dakota%20Project%20Blue%20Book%20files.pdf
6 G. H. S. Jones, "Onsite Inspection of Reputed UFO Landing Marks at Duhamel, Alberta." Defence Research Establishment Suffield, Ralston, Alberta. Suffield Memorandum no. 49/97. Available at: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/unusual/ufo/Documents/Duhamel-inspection-report.pdf; Chris Rutkowski, "The Ring Phenomenon," Canadian UFO Report (Canada: CUFOR, 1979): 4 - 7. Available in full on Terry Wilson's website: https://oldcropcircles.weebly.com/the-ring-phenomenon.html
7 Arunn Narashimhan, "Crop Circle Hoax and Science." Arunn's Notebook. Accessed Nov 2, 2018: https://home.iitm.ac.in/arunn/crop-circle-hoax-and-science.html
8 Delgado, Circular Evidence, 11, 20 - 21.
9 Delgado, Circular Evidence, 156 - 7.
10 Freddy Silva. Secrets in the Fields: The Science and Mysticism of Crop Circles. Portland, ME: Invisible Temple Publishing, 2013, 220.
11 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 27. Chapter 6 contains numerous references to encounters with military helicopters.
12 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 4, 19, 79, 85-6, 126, 255, 271, 290.
13 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 85-6, 255, 290;Lucy Pringle. Crop Circles: The Greatest Mystery of Modern Times (London: Thorsons, 1999), 27 - 47.
14 Delgado, Circular Evidence, 45 - 47.
15 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 270.
16 Colin Andrews. "White Crow - Encounter at Cheesefoot Head." The Official Website of Colin Andrews. Accessed November 2, 2018: http://www.colinandrews.net/CheesefootHead-PatDelgado.html
17 Jacques Vallée. "Crop Circles, Part Deux: Alien Glyphs, Human Myths, Blogging Bliss." Boingboing. April 8, 2010: https://boingboing.net/2010/04/08/crop-circles-part-de.html
18 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 123.
19 John Burke. "The Physics of Crop Formations." MUFON Journal (October, 1998): 3-7. Accessed November 2, 2018: http://www.bltresearch.com/published/physics.html; William C. Levengood and Nancy P. Talbott. "Dispersion of Energies in Worldwide Crop Formations." Physiologia Plantarum 105 (1999). Accessed November 2, 2018: http://www.bltresearch.com/published/dispersion.php.
20 Michael Chorost and Colin Andrews. "The Summer 1990 Crop Circles." Beyond Weird. Accessed November 2, 2018: https://www.beyondweird.com/occult/circle90.html
21 Terry Wilson. "Part 1: Testimony." The Men Who Conned the World. Accessed November 2, 2018: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/1-testimony.html; Crop Circles: The Human Experience. Interview with Colin Andrews, by Diane M. Cooper: http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/dec2/andrews.htm.
22 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 33 - 34.
23 For a full account of the circumstances of the Julia Set's appearance, see the introduction to Silva, Secrets in the Fields.
24 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 78 - 79.
25 see the introduction to Silva, Secrets in the Fields.
26 "Is the Conduit Closing On The Wiltshire Phenomenon?" Crop Circle News and Archives. Accessed November 2, 2018: http://cropcirclewisdom.com/crop-circle-diaries/is-the-conduit-closing-on-the-wiltshire-phenomenon.
27 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 59; Nancy Talbott. "Two Largest Snow Formations Yet Reported." BLT Research.com. Accessed November 2, 2018: http://www.bltresearch.com/robbert/snow09.php.
28 Burke, "The Physics of Crop Formations," 5.
29 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 133.
30 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 22, 68, 81 -2, 95 -6, 142 - 147.
31 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 220.
32 See Colin Andrews' explanation in the embedded video at "Colin Andrews Speaks Openly and Admits we have been Fooled!" Crop Circle Wisdom. Accessed November 2, 2018: http://cropcirclewisdom.com/crop-circle-diaries/colin-andrews-speaks-openly-and-admits-we-have-been-fooled
33 Silva, Secrets in the Fields, 216.
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Think Anomalous is created by Jason Charbonneau. Illustration by Colin Campbell. Music by Josh Chamberland. Animation by Brendan Barr. Sound design by Will Mountain and Josh Chamberland.