Crop circle

Crop circle
A 780 ft (240 m) crop circle in the form of a double (six-sided) triskelion composed of 409 circles. Milk Hill, England, 2001

A crop circle is a sizable pattern created by the flattening of a crop such as wheat, barley, rye, maize, or rapeseed. Crop circles are also referred to as crop formations, because they are not always circular in shape. While the exact date crop circles began to appear is unknown, the documented cases have substantially increased from the 1970s to current times. Twenty-six countries reported approximately ten thousand crop circles in the last third of the 20th century. Ninety percent of those were located in southern England.[1] Many of the formations appearing in that area are positioned near ancient monuments, such as Stonehenge. According to one study, nearly half of all circles found in the UK in 2003 were located within a 15 km (9.3 miles) radius of Avebury.[2]



1678 pamphlet on the "Mowing-Devil".

The earliest recorded image resembling a crop circle is depicted in a 17th century English woodcut called the Mowing-Devil. The image depicts the Devil with a scythe mowing (cutting)[3] a circular design in a field of oats. The pamphlet containing the image states that the farmer, disgusted at the wage his mower was demanding for his work, insisted that he would rather have "the devil himself" perform the task.

A historical report of crop circles, republished (from Nature, 1880)[4][5] in January 2000 Journal of Meteorology[6] describes the 1880 investigations by amateur scientist John Rand Capron:

The storms about this part of Surrey have been lately local and violent, and the effects produced in some instances curious. Visiting a neighbour's farm on Wednesday evening (21st), we found 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, nor indicating whether it was wind or rain, or both combined, which had caused them, beyond the general evidence everywhere of heavy rainfall. They were suggestive to me of some cyclonic wind action ...[7]

Most historical accounts of crop circles are anecdotal, in some cases describing crops being cut or burnt rather than flattened.[8][9][10] One report given in 1966 from the town of Tully, Queensland, Australia, came from a sugar cane farmer who said he witnessed a saucer-shaped craft rise 30 or 40 feet (12 m) up from a swamp and then fly away. When he went to investigate the location where he thought the saucer had landed, he found the reeds intricately woven in a clockwise fashion on top of the water. Reportedly, the woven reeds are said to have been able to hold the weight of 10 men.[11][12]

Public attention in crop circles arose the late 1970s as many circles began appearing throughout the English countryside. This phenomenon became widely known in the late 1980s, after the media started to report crop circles in Hampshire and Wiltshire. To date, approximately 10,000 crop circles have been reported internationally, from locations such as the former Soviet Union, the UK, Japan, the U.S. and Canada. Skeptics note a correlation between crop circles, recent media coverage, and the absence of fencing and/or anti-trespassing legislation.[13]

Although farmers have expressed concern at the damage caused to their crops, local response to the appearance of crop circles can be enthusiastic, with locals taking advantage of the increase of tourism and visits from scientists, crop circle researchers, and individuals seeking spiritual experiences.[14] The market for crop-circle interest has consequently generated bus or helicopter tours of circle sites, walking tours, T-shirts and book sales.

The last decade has witnessed crop formations with increased size and complexity of form, some featuring as many as 2000 different shapes,[15] and some incorporating complex mathematical and scientific characteristics.[16][17][18]

Bower and Chorley

In 1991, self-professed pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley made headlines claiming it was they who started the phenomenon in 1978 with the use of simple tools consisting of a plank of wood, rope, and a baseball cap fitted with a loop of wire to help them walk in a straight line. Inspired by Australian crop circle accounts from 1966, Doug and Dave reportedly made more than 200 crop circles from 1978–1991 and claimed to be responsible for most if not all circles made prior to 1987.[19][20][21] After their announcement, the two men demonstrated making a crop circle .[22] Despite general acceptance of their story, crop circle researchers remain skeptical of many of their claims.[21][23][24] Since their revelation, crop formations have continued to appear each year, often in greater number, size, and complexity.

Art and business

Since the early 1990s the UK arts collective founded by artists Rod Dickinson and John Lundberg (and subsequently includes artists Wil Russell and Rob Irving), named the Circlemakers, have been creating some crop circles in the UK and around the world both as part of their art practice and for commercial clients.[25][26]

On the night of July 11–12, 1992, a crop-circle making competition, for a prize of several thousand UK pounds (partly funded by the Arthur Koestler Foundation), was held in Berkshire. The winning entry was produced by three Westland Helicopters engineers, using rope, PVC pipe, a trestle and a ladder. Another competitor used a small garden roller, a plank and some rope.

In 2002, Discovery Channel commissioned five aeronautics and astronautics graduate students from MIT to create crop circles of their own, aiming to duplicate some of the features claimed to distinguish "real" crop circles from the known fakes such as those created by Bower and Chorley. The creation of the circle was recorded and used in the Discovery Channel documentary Crop Circles: Mysteries in the Fields.[27]

Legal implications

In 1992 Hungarian youths Gábor Takács and Róbert Dallos, both then 17, were the first people to face legal action after creating a crop circle. Takács and Dallos, of the St. Stephen Agricultural Technicum, a high school in Hungary specializing in agriculture, created a 36-metre (118 ft) diameter crop circle in a wheat field near Székesfehérvár, 43 miles (69 km) southwest of Budapest, on June 8, 1992. On September 3, the pair appeared on Hungarian TV and exposed the circle as a hoax, showing photos of the field before and after the circle was made. As a result, Aranykalász Co., the owners of the land, sued the youngsters for 630,000 Ft (approximately US$3,000) in damages. The presiding judge ruled that the students were only responsible for the damage caused in the circle itself, amounting to about 6,000 Ft (approximately US$30), and that 99% of the damage to the crops was caused by the thousands of visitors who flocked to Székesfehérvár following the media's promotion of the circle. The fine was eventually paid by the TV show, as were the students' legal fees.[citation needed]

In 2000, Matthew Williams became the first man in the UK to be arrested for causing criminal damage after making a crop circle near Devizes.[28]


Formations usually are made overnight, but have also been made during the day. While it is not known how all crop circles are formed, various theories have been put forth ranging from natural phenomenon and man-made hoaxes, to the paranormal and even animals.[29][30][31][32]


The most widely known method for a person or group to construct a crop formation is to tie one end of a rope to an anchor point, and the other end to a board which is used to crush the plants. Some crop formations are paid for by companies who use them as advertising.[33] As an explanation of some of the more complex formations, physicists have suggested the use of GPS, lasers, and portable microwave generators.[34][35]


Some have suggested crop circles are the result of extraordinary meteorological phenomena ranging from freak tornadoes to ball lightning.[36] The first known published reference to the possibility of crop formations being the result of natural phenomena dates back to 1880 in which investigator and amateur scientist John Rand Capron theorized the formations may have been the product of "cyclonic wind action..." [6][7] Physicist Stephen Hawking expressed the opinion in 1992 that, "Corn circles are either hoaxes or formed by vortex movement of air".[37][38]


Sketch of a 'spaceship' creating crop circles, sent to UK Ministry of Defence circa 1998.

Since appearing in the media in the 1970s, crop circles have become the subject of speculation by various paranormal, ufological, and anomalistic investigators ranging from proposals that they were created by bizarre meteorological phenomena to messages from extraterrestrial beings.[36][39][40][41]

Many crop circles have been found near ancient sites such as Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire. They have also been found near mounds of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves, also known as tumuli barrows, or barrows and chalk horses, or trenches dug and filled with rubble made from brighter material than the natural bedrock, often chalk. There has also been speculation that crop circles have a relation to ley lines.[39][42][43]Many New Age groups incorporate crop circles into their belief systems.

Some have related crop circles to the Gaia hypothesis, alleging that "Gaia", the earth, is actually alive and that crop circles are messages or responses to stimuli such as global warming and human pollution. It asserts that the earth may be modeled as if a single super-organism, in that earthly components (e.g. biota, climate, temperature, sunlight, etc.) influence each other and are organized to function and develop as a whole.[44]

The main criticism of alleged non-human creation of crop circles is that while evidence of these origins, besides eyewitness testimonies, is essentially absent, some are definitely known to be the work of human pranksters and others can be adequately explained as such. There have been cases in which researchers declared crop circles to be "the real thing", only to be confronted with the people who created the circle and documented the fraud.[45] In his 1997 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan discussed alien-based theories of crop circle formation. Sagan concluded that no empirical evidence existed to link UFOs with crop circles.[46] Many others have demonstrated how complex crop circles can be created.[47][48] Scientific American published an article by Matt Ridley,[49] who started making crop circles in northern England 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 of creating a crop circle are now well documented on the Internet.[47]

Among others, paranormal enthusiasts, ufologists, and anomalistic investigators have offered hypothetical explanations that have been criticized as pseudoscientific by skeptical groups like the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.[50][51][52][53]

Responding to local beliefs that "extraterrestrial beings" in UFOs were responsible for crop circles appearing in Indonesia, the government and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (Lapan) described them as "man-made". Thomas Djamaluddin, research professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Lapan stated: "We have come to agree that this 'thing' cannot be scientifically proven. Scientists have put UFOs in the category of pseudoscience."[54]

Animal activity

In 2009, the attorney general for the island state of Tasmania stated that Australian wallabies had been found creating crop circles in fields of opium poppies, which are grown legally for medicinal use, after consuming some of the opiate-laden poppies and running in circles.[55]

See also


  1. ^ Silva, Freddy (June 1, 2010). Secrets in the Fields: The Science and Mysticism of Crop Circles. Hampton Roads Pub Co. pp. 352 pages. ISBN 1571743227. 
  2. ^ Jeremy Northcote Spatial distribution of England's crop circles Edith Cowan University, Australia
  3. ^ The "Mowing Devil" Investigated - 22/12/2005
  4. ^ Nature vol. 22; pp. 290-291: 29 July 1880
  5. ^ "Nature archive for the decade 1880 - 1889". Nature. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "A case of genuine crop circles dating from July 1880 -- as published in Nature in the year 1880." Journal of Meteorology (ISSN 0307-5966: Volume 25, pp 20-21, Jan. 2000)
  7. ^ a b "Scientific Viewpoints regarding Crop Circles" at
  8. ^ Canada's Unidentified Flying Objects: The Search for the Unknown at Library and Archives Canada
  9. ^ Physical Trace by Paul Fuller
  10. ^ "
  11. ^ "
  12. ^ "
  13. ^ "Disease brings poor crop of circles". BBC News. 2001-08-17. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  14. ^ National Geographic: Crop Circles: Artwork or Alien Signs"
  15. ^ "
  16. ^ "
  17. ^ ""
  18. ^ ""
  19. ^ Crop Circle Confession; August 2002; Scientific American Magazine; by Matt Ridley
  20. ^ "
  21. ^ a b ""
  22. ^ Legacy of the Gods: The Origin of Places of Power and the Quest to Transform ... By Freddy Silva
  23. ^ "
  24. ^ ""
  25. ^ Hemming, Henry (2009). In Search of the English Eccentric John Murray. ISBN 0719522129.
  26. ^ Off Kilter
  27. ^ "Crop Circles: Mysteries in the Fields", Discovery Chanel (first broadcast 2002-10-10)
  28. ^ Milmo, Cahal (November 4, 2000). "Police unravel mystery of the crop circle". The Independent (London). 
  29. ^ ""
  30. ^ ""
  31. ^ ""
  32. ^ ""
  33. ^ Professional crop circle creation team
  34. ^ ""
  35. ^ "
  36. ^ a b Crop Circles and Their 'Orbs' of Light (Skeptical Inquirer September 2002)
  37. ^ ""
  38. ^ ""
  39. ^ a b Haselhoff, Eltjo (2001) "The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles:Scientific Research & Urban Legends", Frog Ltd, ISBN 1-58394-046-4
  40. ^ Carroll, Robert (2005) "Skeptics Dictionary: Crop Circles", Wiley, ISBN 0-471-27242-6
  41. ^ Clark Jerome (1995) "Strange and Unexplained Happenings", Gale ISBN 0-8103-9780-3
  42. ^ Howarth, Leslie (2000) "If in Doubt, Blame the Aliens!: A new scientific analysis of UFO sightings, alleged alien abductions, animal mutilations and crop circles", iUniverse, ISBN 0-595-15693-2
  43. ^ Godfrey-Faussett, Charles (2004) "England", Footprint Travel Guides, ISBN 1-903471-91-5
  44. ^ Dictionary of environment and ecology by P. Collin, 5th ed., Bloomsbury Reference, 2004
  45. ^ Joe Nickell, "Crop-Circle Mania: An Investigative Update", Skeptical Inquirer, cited as reference 6 in "Levengood’s Crop-Circle Plant Research, Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 6.2, June 1996
  46. ^ "The Demon Haunted World", Carl Sagan (Random House, January 1996)
  47. ^ a b Circlemakers
  48. ^ Faking UFOs, Roel Van der Meulen (Self Published, 1994)
  49. ^ Ridley, Hola (August 2002). "Crop Circle Confession". Scientific American. Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  50. ^ "Levengood’s Crop-Circle Plant Research". 1996-06. 
  51. ^
  52. ^ Levengood. W.C. 1994. Anatomical anomalies in crop formation plants. - Physiologia Plantaruni. 92: 356-363.
  53. ^ John Vidal The bizarre revival of crop circles - and advice on how to make your own, 5 June 2009 "
  54. ^ Ika Krismantari, Crop circles provide food for thought, The Star, 6 February 2011
  55. ^ "'Stoned wallabies make crop circles'". BBC News. 25 June 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 

Further reading

  • The Field Guide: The Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle Making by Rob Irving and John Lundberg, edited by Mark Pilkington, 2006, Strange Attractor Press, ISBN 0-9548054-2-9.
  • Jim Schnabel, Round in Circles: Physicists, Poltergeists, Pranksters, and the Secret History of the Cropwatchers (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1993), ISBN 0-14-017952-6.
  • Eltjo H. Haselhoff, The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles: Scientific Research and Urban Legends, ISBN 0-285-63625-1.
  • Carl Sagan, 1996. The Demon-Haunted world: Science as a Candle in the Dark; "Aliens" pp 73ff.
  • Noyes, Ralph (editor) The Crop Circle Enigma: Grounding the Phenomenon in Science, Culture and Metaphysics (Bath, Gateway Books, 1990), ISBN 0-946551-66-9.
  • Silva, Freddy, Secrets in the Fields: The Science and Mysticism of Crop Circles (Charlottesville, VA, Hampton Roads Publishing, 2002), ISBN 978-1-57174-322-0.
  • Glickman, Michael, "CROP CIRCLES: The Bones of God" (Frog Books, 2009) ISBN 978-1583942284
  • Taylor, Suzanne, "What On Earth? Inside the Crop Circle Mystery" 2011 DVD 81-minute feature UBC 724101746123

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • crop circle — crop ,circle noun count a part of a field where the crops have been pushed flat in the shape of a circle. Some people think these are caused by ALIENS …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • crop circle — ► NOUN ▪ an area of standing crops which has been flattened in the form of a circle or other pattern by unexplained means …   English terms dictionary

  • crop circle — crop .circle n a pattern that appeared in British farm fields, which some people believe were made by creatures from another world …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Crop Circle — Agroglyphe Un agroglyphe (ici de type “fractale”). Un agroglyphe, parfois nommé cercle de culture ou cercle de récolte, est un motif réalisé dans un champ de blé ou d autres céréales par flexion des épis afin de représenter diverses formes… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Crop circle — Agroglyphe Un agroglyphe (ici de type “fractale”). Un agroglyphe, parfois nommé cercle de culture ou cercle de récolte, est un motif réalisé dans un champ de blé ou d autres céréales par flexion des épis afin de représenter diverses formes… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • crop circle — noun : a geometric and especially circular pattern in a field of grain giving the appearance of having been made by systematically flattening the stalks and now usually attributed to natural phenomena or to the work of hoaxers or pranksters… …   Useful english dictionary

  • crop circle — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms crop circle : singular crop circle plural crop circles a part of a field where the crops have been pushed flat in the shape of a circle. Some people think that these are caused by aliens …   English dictionary

  • crop circle — (also corn circle) n [often pl] an area in a field where parts of the crop have been made flat. The area is round or in other shapes and patterns. Crop circles began to appear in Britain in the 1980s. Some people think that they are made by… …   Universalium

  • crop circle — noun An area in a field of crops where the stalks have been flattened into a circle or other geometric shape. Syn: corn circle …   Wiktionary

  • crop circle — noun an area of standing crops which has been flattened in the form of a circle or more complex pattern by an unexplained agency …   English new terms dictionary