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

A crop circle is an art form presented as a sizeable pattern created by the flattening of a crop such as wheat, barley, rye, or maize.[1][2] The term crop circle entered the Oxford Dictionary in 1990. In 1991, self-described pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley claimed that they started the crop circle phenomenon in 1978.[3] Prior to this admission, many seriously entertained the idea that crop circles were not man-made, and even after the disclosure of the prank, there are paranormal enthusiasts, ufologists, and anomalistic investigators who continue to offer alternative explanations[4][5][6] which are criticized by skeptical groups such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.[7] Crop circles have become a significant source of tourism for Wiltshire, England.[8]



In an 1880 publication of Nature that was republished in the January 2000 issue of the Journal of Meteorology.[9] an investigation by amateur scientist John Rand Capron was described:

"The storms about this part of Western 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,..."[10]

A crop circle in the form of a Triskelion


In 1991, two men from Southampton, England, announced that they had conceived the idea as a prank at a pub near Winchester, Hampshire, during an evening in 1976. Inspired by the 1966 Tully Saucer Nests, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley made their crop circles using planks, rope, hats and wire as their only tools: using a four-foot-long plank attached to a rope, they easily created circles eight feet in diameter. The two men were able to make a 40-foot (12 m) circle in 15 minutes.

The pair became frustrated when their work did not receive significant publicity, so in 1981, they created a circle in Matterley Bowl, a natural amphitheatre just outside Winchester, Hampshire—an area surrounded by roads from which a clear view of the field is available to drivers passing by. Their designs were at first simple circles. When newspapers claimed that the circles could easily be explained by natural phenomena, Bower and Chorley made more complex patterns. A simple wire with a loop, hanging down from a cap—the loop positioned over one eye—could be used to focus on a landmark to aid in the creation of straight lines. Later designs of crop circles became increasingly complicated.

Bower's wife had become suspicious of him, noticing high levels of mileage in their car. Eventually, fearing that his wife suspected him of adultery, Bower confessed to her, and subsequently, he and Chorley informed a British national newspaper. Chorley died in 1996, and Doug Bower has made crop circles as recently as 2004. Bower has said that, had it not been for his wife's suspicions, he would have taken the secret to his deathbed, never revealing that it was a hoax.[11]

Bower has admitted that he was asked to claim credit for more formations than the pair had created for purposes of newspaper publicity. There were at the time of the newspaper article known to be other teams of crop circle makers operating.

A crop circle in Switzerland

Scientific American published an article by Matt Ridley,[12] 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 to create a crop circle are now well documented on the Internet.[13]

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 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-meter 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 HUF (approximately $3000 USD) in damages. The presiding judge ruled that the students were only responsible for the damage caused in the 36-meter diameter circle, amounting to about 6,000 HUF (approximately $30 USD), 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 Wiltshire resident and crop circle artist Matthew Williams was arrested and subsequently prosecuted for creating a crop circle near his home in Bishops Cannings. He claims to have been trying to demonstrate to researchers that circles could be created at night without any lights. Williams was well known as a paranormal researcher and news of his involvement in making circles came as a shock to some. News of the arrest made front page news and national TV news. The court case was concluded and Williams was fined the sum of £125 for criminal damages.

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".[14]

Paranormal, ufological, and anomalistic speculations

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 freak meteorological phenomena to messages from extraterrestrials.[15][16][17][18]

The location of many crop circles near ancient sites such as Stonehenge, barrows, and chalk horses has led to many New Age belief systems incorporating crop circles, including the beliefs that they are formed in relation to ley lines and that they give off energy that can be detected through dowsing.[15][19][20]

The main criticism of alleged non-human creation of crop circles is that while evidence of these origins, besides eyewitness testimonies, is essentially absent, many 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 (see above).[21] Many others have demonstrated how complex crop circles are created.[13][22]

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. Specifically, that there were no credible cases of UFOs being observed creating a circle, yet there were many cases when it was known that human agents, such as Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, were responsible.[23] Circle creators Doug Bower and Dave Chorley concur.

In 1999, researcher Colin Andrews received funding from Laurence Rockefeller to conduct a two- year investigation into crop-circle hoaxing. Andrews put together a team that studied crop circles that had been commissioned by various media outlets and infiltrated several groups known to be creating man-made circles. Using these man-made circles as a base, Andrews went on to study data from circles found in England in 1999 and 2000. Andrews concluded that 80% of all circles studied showed "unassailable" signs of having been man-made, including post holes used to demarcate circle layouts or evidence of human tracks underlying the circle sites, but could not account for the remaining 20%[citation needed] Andrews's figures have been disputed by CSICOP who argue that his criteria for distinguishing between man-made circles and non-man-made circles were insufficient, as no official standard exists for determining the nature of a crop circle.[24] Furthermore, these circles were in England, where the hoax is most operative.

See also


  1. ^ Hillary Mayell Crop Circles: Artworks or Alien Signs?, National Geographic News, August 2, 2002
  2. ^ Rob Irving and Peter Brookesmith Crop Circles: The Art of the Hoax, December 15, 2009
  3. ^ Crop Circle Confession; August 2002; Scientific American Magazine; by Matt Ridley
  4. ^
  5. ^ Levengood. W.C. 1994. Anatomical anomalies in crop formation plants. - Physiologia Plantaruni. 92: 356-363.
  6. ^ John Vidal The bizarre revival of crop circles - and advice on how to make your own, 5 June 2009 "
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Vidal, "The bizarre revival...", 5 June 2009. "From being genuinely intriguing, amusing and innocent folk art, the formations have become worth millions of pounds to the Wiltshire tourist industry."
  9. ^ "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)
  10. ^ "Scientific Viewpoints regarding Crop Circles" at
  11. ^ Bower and Chorley's original confession was first reported in Today, September 9, 1991
  12. ^ Ridley, Hola (August 2002). "Crop Circle Confession". Scientific American. Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  13. ^ a b ¤ c i r c l e m a k e r s ¤
  14. ^ "Crop Circles: Mysteries in the Fields", Discovery Chanel (first broadcast 2002-10-10)
  15. ^ a b Haselhoff, Eltjo (2001) "The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles:Scientific Research & Urban Legends", Frog Ltd, ISBN 1583940464
  16. ^ Carroll, Robert (2005) "Skeptics Dictionary: Crop Circles", Wiley, ISBN 0471272426
  17. ^ Clark Jerome (1995) "Strange and Unexplained Happenings", Gale ISBN 0810397803
  18. ^ Crop Circles and Their 'Orbs' of Light (Skeptical Inquirer September 2002)
  19. ^ 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 0595156932
  20. ^ Godfrey-Faussett, Charles (2004) "England", Footprint Travel Guides, ISBN 1903471915
  21. ^ Joe Nickell, "Crop-Circle Mania: An Investigative Update", Skeptical Inquirer
  22. ^ Faking UFOs, Roel Van der Meulen (Self Published, 1994)
  23. ^ "The Demon Haunted World", Carl Sagan (Random House, January 1996)
  24. ^ Crop-Circle Plant Research by Levengood; Investigative Files (Skeptical Briefs June 1996)

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, ISBN 0-9548054-2-9.
  • Round in Circles: Physicists, Poltergeists, Pranksters, and the Secret History of the Cropwatchers by Jim Schnabel, 1993, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-017952-6.
  • The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles: Scientific Research and Urban Legends by Eltjo H. Haselhoff, 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 The Hollows, Wellow, Bath U.K.:1990 Gateway Books, ISBN 0-946551-66-9

External links

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