CROP CIRCLES

Laurie Eddie

<>(Investigator 99, 2004 November)


Crop circles are those clearly defined circular patterns that are found primarily in fields of grain, and to a lesser extent in reed beds, fields of grass, in snow and other places. Where they occur in cereal crops the stalks have been flattened into various patterns such as circular shapes, (crop circles), more complex geometrical patterns, or pictograms, (a symbol representing a word or group of words).

Although they are found worldwide, perhaps significantly, their greatest concentrations are in Britain, with some 90% of all examples being found near Milk Hill, in Wiltshire, England.

While it is generally claimed that "modern" crop circle formations first appeared in the late 1970's, (at least in Britain), during the 1960's there were reports of circular formations from other places, particularly Australia and Canada. Initially, some of these were referred to as "saucer or UFO nests" implying they were produced by UFO's landing.

One of the earliest reports, in 1966, came from Tully in Queensland, where a large circle was found amongst reeds in a swamp. As Schnabel (1993) noted, at that time Queensland had become quite famous for UFO sightings and a number of these nests had been found, "… in swamp reeds and canefields, many of which predated the Tully case." (p. 13). Similar sites continued to be reported around Australia, including one at Tooligie Hill in South Australia in 1971, and at Navarre, Victoria in September 1972, (Collie, 1973).

During the 1980's the number of circles reported increased dramatically, and, reflecting the possibility that there might be explanations for their origins, other than UFO landing sites, the term "crop circles" began to be more commonly used. At the same time, following growing public interest in these circles, a number of "experts" started to appear. Known as Croppies, or Cereologists, (from Ceres, goddess of crops), they proposed various explanations for the origins of these circles.

Some claimed that the circles had been created by:

[a] UFO's landing,
[b] by an unknown form of energy, possibly paranormal,
[c] that they were formed by "miniature black holes"
[d] they were communications from the spirit world, or,
[e] a transdimensional gateway like the Stargate.

Others, some of whom had legitimate qualifications, proposed what appeared to be valid scientific explanations, but examination revealed these to be just as bizarre and dubious as any of the metaphysical explanations.

Interestingly, as the shapes evolved from simple circles to increasingly more complex shapes, these "experts" were forced to constantly "adjust" their theories.

Thus, Meaden, (1989), who had initially attributed the circles to wind vortices, (mini tornadoes), "… attempted to modify his theory to involve electrified forces and multiple tornado funnels." (Randles, 2002, p. 176). He introduced the concept of "plasma vortices" an extremely hypothetical concept, involving a mass of spinning, ionized air, rather like ball-lightning, which, when it landed in fields, created extremely complex patterns.

Andrews (2002), attributed them to underground water acting like, "... a dynamo creating an electro-static field that causes the plants to collapse." Talbot (2002) claimed that, "Ground electrical charge ... greater than in other areas could be functioning as an attractor to an atmospheric energy system, rather like the way that lightening is drawn to earth because of the negative and positive charges."

Many of these abstruse pseudo-scientific or metaphysical theories relied on quasi or totally non-scientific tests; thus, Andrews, R. (1992) who, using dowsing rods, detected within the formations a form of mysterious life-energy. As Irving (2002) pointed out one buried "… bottles of water in crop patterns, measuring the resultant energy resonance by dowsing (counting pendulum oscillations. These findings are confirmed by carefully monitoring ‘delta activity' (intuition)." (p. 50).

Such techniques are not only highly unscientific but extremely subjective, and, as such, totally worthless.

Seriously damaging the various theories concerning the authenticity of the circles were the admissions by Doug Bower and Dave Chorley in 1991 that they had created many of these circles using nothing more than a 1.2 metre long wooden plank, a ball of string, and a baseball cap with a wire mounted on it for sighting purposes.

Hoax circles were not a new idea; Wood (2000) admitted that, as an evacuee in 1940, he was sent to a farm in Gloucestershire, where he, and several friends, marked out "… patterns in standing cereal crops by running around in them." Later, he admits, "… one of our gang hit upon the ideas of making circles and other shapes using a length of rope." (p. 52).

Because Cereologists are so keen to believe these formations are a genuine form of alien communication, or some form of supernatural force, they tend to completely reject the claims of the hoaxers, regarding them as little more than spoilsports who are trying to discredit "genuine" evidence of alien visitations. Yet, as Jay (1998) and Irving (1999) pointed out, many creators of the patterns and pictograms consider themselves to be cereal artists graffitists creating their work in fields rather than on walls, rather than hoaxers.

Thus, in 1990, Jay set out to refute the claims by crop circle "experts" that creating a pictogram was difficult, and with this intention rather than to create a hoax, with the assistance of two friends, created his first pictogram.

While he admitted it was an extremely amateurish attempt, nevertheless, when "found" it was widely proclaimed by Cereologists as an outstanding example, a genuine alien pictogram. Testing even revealed certain electrostatic variations in one part of the diagram, and one researcher even heard a pinging noise being emitted from a central recess within the main circle, evidence he claimed, that considerable energy must have been required to create the formation.

By 1991, the Etchilhampton Formation, (the name by which Jay's creation had become known), featured in a number of crop circles books, where it was lauded as a genuine example of alien art.

Andrews and Delgado (1991), two leading crop circle "experts" featured this pictogram, on the front cover of their book. When Jay admitted its true origins, they refused to believe him, insisting the formation must be genuine since the precision of the figures and the unruffled nature of the stalks clearly proved that no human could have created the figure.

A principal argument, by Cereologists, is that many of the shapes and details within many of the pictograms are so complex no human could possibly have created them; therefore, they must be alien creations. Thomas (1999), a founding member of the Centre for Crop Circle Studies, and author of several books on pictograms, while admitting that some pictograms are hoaxes, nevertheless argues that, "… the physical creation of some of the very large, spectacular and hugely complex patterns we have seen over the years simply wouldn't be possible in one night under cover of darkness." [p. 46].

Such feeble claims are reminiscent of those made by Von Daniken (1968) who insisted that building the pyramids was beyond the ability of humans, therefore, aliens must have built them.

So what are the facts?

  • Hoaxers have demonstrated that these formations can be easily made using the most basic equipment, usually a flat board, which is moved progressively forward stamping down the stalks, a rope and sometimes a long tape-measure. Even Andrews (2002) admitted that, with a single board, one could create a circle 23 m. (75 feet) in diameter in about 40 minutes. Recently some hoaxers have started to use a lightweight plastic garden roller that, when filled with water, enables them to flatten the crops much faster than a plank. In one nighttime competition to create a pictogram, the runner up was Schnabel, who "… worked alone armed only with a plank, some lengths of rope, and a small garden roller. Science (1992).

  • Hoaxers have created complex patterns very quickly; e.g. a 61metre (200 feet) pictogram in 4 hours for a local pop group. Although this was done in daylight, hoaxers say that working in moonlight is not much more difficult. The secret is careful planning of the design, especially determining the proper sequence for producing the various parts of the pictogram. Dickinson (1999) reported that along with two others, they created for US television a 91 m. (300 ft.) pattern containing 150 circles and complex geometrical shapes, that was "… completed in 3hrs 45 mins…"

  • To support their belief that the formations are alien creations, Cereologists claim "they appear overnight." Yet the fact is, some are made over several nights; Brookesmith (2001) cites the quite complex Bythorn Mandala that was done, "in two stints." (p. 42). Many rural fields are isolated, located on back-roads, or partly obscured from roadways, so they rarely attract attention. Even their owners rarely visit them; farmers admit that crops which might take 5-6 months to grow may only be checked three or four times during that time. Thus, hoaxers would have more than enough time to create the most elaborate formations over a number of nights. In addition, because of the isolation of many fields, any patterns could remain undetected for some time.

  • Cereologists claim these formations must be alien creations because there is no evidence of any paths that would enable people access to the formations. The incredible naivety of this claim is revealed in the video Crop Circle Communiqué (1992) where the commentator unashamedly states, "… no entry or exit signs were visible" yet the sweeping aerial views of the formation clearly showed numerous tramlines, (parallel tracks left by farm machinery wide enough for individuals to negotiate), running through the formations. Yet, even when there are no tramlines hoaxers admit it is easy enough to pick a path between standing stalks, and if there are several people involved, they simply follow the leader, stepping in their footprints.

  • Cereologists claim that "genuine" patterns display anomalous evidence not found in hoax formations, these include [a] unusual levels of radiation, [b] a high incidence of magnetite, (similar to that found in meteors), and, [c] bursting of the cereal stalks. Since, as they claim, hoaxers could not produce these unusual conditions, those circles displaying such anomalies must be "genuine" – unfortunately such claims are totally invalid! As Jay (1998) noted "scientific" tests of his pictogram revealed unusual electrostatic variations, although he had done nothing to create such an anomaly. In the TV documentary, Crop Circles: Mysteries in the Fields, (2002), MIT Aerospace Engineering School students were given the challenge of creating a crop circle that duplicated the radiation, the presence of magnetite, the bursting of the stalks, and it had to be done at night-time in four hours or less. The site was a wheat-field at Hillsboro in Ohio. For the project they designed and built several portable contraptions, a magnetron wave guide, (a magnetron from a microwave), a "Flamschmeisser, (a "home-made" water-pipe cannon, that shot iron powder through a ring of flame), so as to "… spread iron molecules in the soil inside the crop circle. (Burgel, 2002), and an incendiary bomb filled with iron powder. Within the time frame they created a 92 metre long crop circle consisting of a single plain circle joined by a straight line to a larger circle, 30.5 metres wide, containing a triangular diagram, (based on the shape of an MIT building). Their crop circle replicated the expulsion cavities in the stalks and the presence of high levels of magnetic iron particles, but not the radiation; however given that this was a first attempt by inexperienced amateurs two out of three of the markers of "genuine" crop circles was a reasonable result!

  • Cereologists tend to ignore logical explanations for anomalies such as varying levels of soil-iron. Geologists and many Farmers know that iron levels in soil can vary considerably from field to field, or within a single field.
  • There are a number of clues supporting the proposition that crop circles are the product of humans rather than aliens: -
      [a] If these formations were alien creations we would expect that from the time when they first appeared, their annual numbers would be reasonably constant; but they are not! When they first appeared they were relatively rare, then after widespread publicity their numbers increased yearly. As Nickell (1996) noted, by the year 1989 some 250 were reported, in 1990 some 700; such an increase strongly suggests that more and more people, rather than aliens, were copying the hoaxes.

    [b] There is clear evidence of a definite developmental trend in these formations. Andrews (2002) admitted that they had evolved; starting as simple circles, gradually more complex patterns - involving multiple circles - started to appear. The first of these in 1978 comprised five circles in the shape of a Celtic cross, then, in 1990, circles joined by straight lines started to increasingly appear, and from that point in time the designs became increasingly more elaborate, and by the early 1990's complex pictograms started to appear. These often featured contemporary designs, for instance, soon after information concerning the mathematical concept known as fractals, gained media publicity, a formation featuring a Mandelbrot set, one of the better known examples of a fractal, appeared, for the first time, in August 1991 near Cambridge.  

    If we accept the Cereologist's claims that aliens are visiting Earth to communicate with us by vandalizing crops, then we are faced with a number of dilemmas; so what are the possible alternatives: -

    The basic precept of all forms of communication between species is to enable the communicator to be understood. Yet, what can one make of supposedly intelligent beings that leave undecipherable signs in cereal-fields? If they are seeking to reveal their existence, why not use symbols, or even words, that can be understood by humans?

    Why would aliens so advanced that they can cross the vast gulfs of space, expending enormous time, effort and expense to come to Earth, and then, when they arrive, limit themselves to leaving cryptic symbols in cereal fields? It would be like Christopher Columbus, after facing all the hardships of crossing the Atlantic, creeping surreptitiously ashore during the night, trampling down the Indians' crops to form his name, (which the Indians would not have been able to read) and then sneaking off. Such actions make absolutely no sense whatsoever!

    If crop circles are truly the work of alien intelligences, then we must face the sad truth that these aliens travel vast distances across space with the sole intention of tramping down our cereal crops! Is this some form of sexual fetish they have, or, like the fairies of folklore, are they leaving their marks by dancing in the fields? Isn't it much more likely that human hoaxers are at work?

    When we find some wall freshly covered by complex patterns of graffiti we do not assume it has been done by aliens, rather, we conclude, it was done by human graffiti "artists." Yet similar human needs, to "leave their mark," appears to motivate both crop circle hoaxers and those who daub their pictures on vacant walls.

    It appears that many of the British circles were created by hoaxers Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who, from 1978 until 1991, when age and the efforts involved prompted their retirement, had made as many as 25-30 fake crop circles and other more complex formations every year. Bower (1992) admitted that when Andrews and Delgado started to expect, "…different things other than circles" they switched to providing diagrams, and then in 1991, a pictogram. It appears widespread publicity inspired many imitators, for, as they reported, during many of their nocturnal activities they saw other hoaxers at work in other fields.

    Doug and Dave even left their "signature" - a double "D" shape – on many of their later creations, and these marks are clearly visible in photographs of these pictograms.

    A question that is often asked is, "What about the circles that existed before Bower and Chorley?"

    It appears that circular patterns in grain fields were not entirely unknown in rural areas before Doug and Dave. Elderly citizens of Sussex reported to Anderhub and Roth (2002) that such circles had been a regular feature of their childhood, and, authors such as Fuller and Randles (1986) found numerous reports of circular patterns dating back to the 19th century.

    Natsis and Potter (1996) cited one example from August 23rd 1678 where a farmer found a large circular area of his crop apparently mowed down. This circle was attributed to demonic forces, the so-called Hertfordshire Mowing Devil, which, it was claimed, had descended on the oat-field with a demonic scythe, felling the stalks. The possibility that it was simply a natural phenomenon, or even a prank, appears to have been overlooked by the superstitious locals of that era, who, as Carroll (2003) pointed out, tended to attribute any unusual formations or structures, such as Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall, to Satan.

    Given the fact that, before Doug and Dave these formations were always simple circles, perhaps, as Randles (2002) suggests, they could have been natural formations created by whirlwinds, and this was probably the cause of the various circular formations, such as the one at Tully in Queensland.

    Doug Bower, who was living in Queensland at the time, apparently read a report of this event and this inspired him to create his own mimetic circles after he returned to England. It appears that the numerous circles he created with Dave Chorley encouraged numerous imitators, and the subsequent media coverage resulted in the emergence of many "experts" people with theories ranging from the crackpot through to the serious, who were all keen to promote their fantastic theories to explain these circles, via the media.

    So, while there had been earlier crop circles created by natural forces, because they were relatively uncommon and had little newsworthiness, they were rarely reported. However, during the 1970's and 1980's, the media was more eager to report "strange" phenomena especially where a perceived connection to UFO's existed. So, once these circles began to receive media coverage, a self-perpetuating band of believers and a coterie of copyists developed, each seeking to outdo each other.

    It appears Doug and Dave had unwittingly created a monster that got out of their control. They became increasingly disillusioned, for as Chorley (1992) admitted, it had started as a fun thing, "…people were having fun, we had lovely art forms in the fields with a hundred people ooing and ahing" but, unintentionally, it had spawned a major industry.

    Even worse it provided the opportunity for a few clever individuals to adapt the phenomena to their own ends, and make a great deal of money out of what had been meant to be nothing more than a harmless prank.

    Cereologists tend to grasp at any possible piece of evidence to support their claims for the existence of crop circles. As a result they often "get it wrong!" They excitedly reported in 2002 that the first Canadian crop circles had been reported near Pike Lake in Saskatchewan, unfortunately, they later had to admit that these "circles" were in fact piles of manure dumped by a local farmer after cleaning out his barns. It seems what they had found were not crop circles, but rather crap-circles.

    Further details of how crop circles and pictograms are created are available on the hoaxers own web-site located at http://www.circlemakers.org/ where their various techniques, and photos of their creations are displayed.
     
     

    REFERENCES:

    Anderhub, W. and Roth, H.P. ((2002). Crop Circles: Exploring the Designs and Mysteries. New York, N.Y.: Lark Books.
    Andrews, C. and Delgado, P. (1991). Crop Circles: The Latest Evidence. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Phanes Press.
    Andrews, C. (2002). In, Crop Circles; Mysteries in the Fields. (2002). Television documentary produced by Termite Art Productions.
    Andrews, R. (1992). In, Crop Circle Communiqué, Television documentary produced by Circlevision Productions.
    Bower, D. (1992). In, Crop Circle Communiqué, TV documentary. Circlevision Productions.
    Brookesmith, P. (2001). War of the Words. Fortean Times, 148, 40-44.
    Burgel, J. (2002). Close encounters in Careytown wheat field. Hillsboro Times-Gazette, 24th June.
    Carroll, R.T. (2003). Crop Circles. In, The Skeptic's Dictionary, Carroll, R.T., (editor), Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, p. 89.
    Chorley, D. (1992). In, Crop Circle Communiqué, TV documentary. Circlevision Productions.
    Circle Hoax Contest, (1992). Science, 257, 481.
    Circles from the Sky? In, Natsis, C. and Potter, M. (editors) (1996). Almanac of the Uncanny. Sydney: Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, 426-427.
    Collie, K. (1973). Riddle of the rings. Australian Post, May 19, 1973, 2-4
    Constable, A. (1991). It happens in the best of circles. Time, 138:59, September 23.
    Crop Circles; Mysteries in the Fields. (2002). Television documentary produced by Termite Art Productions.
    Crop Circle Communiqué, (1992). TV documentary. Circlevision Productions.
    Dickinson, R. (1999). Circle making. Fortean Times, 127, 52.
    Fuller, P. and Randles, J. (1986). Mystery of the Circles. London: BUFORA.
    Irving, R. (1999). Vital signs. Fortean Times, 121, 47.
    Irving, R. (2002). Signs and Wonders. Fortean Times, 164, 50-51.
    Jay, M. (1998). I was a teenage plasma vortex. Fortean Times, 109, 45.
    Meaden, G.T. (1989). The Circle Effect and Its Mystery. Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire: Artetech Publishing Co.
    Natsis, C. and Potter, M. (editors) (1996). Almanac of the Uncanny. Sydney: Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd.
    Nickell, J. (1996). Crop Circles. In, The Encyclopaedia of the Paranormal, Stein, G. (editor). Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 181-186.
    Randles, J. (2002). Crop Circles. In, The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters, Story, R.D., (editor), London: Constable & Robinson Ltd.
    Schnabel, J. (1993). Round in Circles. London: Hamish Hamilton.
    Talbot, N. (2002). In, Crop Circles; Mysteries in the Fields. (2002). Television documentary produced by Termite Art Productions.
    Thomas, A. (1999). A circular argument. Fortean Times, 125, 46.
    Tuohy, W. (1991). The men who conned the world. Today, 9th September.
    Von Daniken, E. (1968). Chariots of the Gods? London: Souvenir Press.
    Wood, D. (2000). Pioneer pranksters? Fortean Times, 131, 52.


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