So, What's Up with These Crop Circles, Anyway?

This crop circle, discovered in Utah in 1998, was ruled genuine by experts in these matters.

In the movie Signs, aliens use crop circles to coordinate their invasion of earth—kind of like the way electronic beacons were used in Independence Day, only lamer.

In reality, crop circles are almost certainly have nothing to do with extraterrestrials, though that is a popular theory. Another is that all crop circles are hoaxes. In 1991, those folk heroes of crop circle fakery Doug Bower and Dave Chorley admitted to manufacturing hundreds of them in England. They demonstrated their string and boards technique for television cameras, and made a plausible crop circle within a few hours. For most casual observers, the case was closed.

And yet crop circles kept coming, internationally, and by the hundreds each year. Surely, a large number (crop circle researcher, or cereologist" Colin Andrew estimates 80%) of those are fraudulent. Self-styled artists from around the globe spend their evenings smashing crops into interesting shapes. They admit as much, but don’t get too specific because their medium is essentially vandalism, and quite annoying to farmers who would be eager to press charges. The hoax circles are often spectacular, and serve to make those who take cereology seriously look silly, but they cannot be used to dismiss the entire phenomenon. Over the years, crop circle enthusiasts have gathered some impressive evidence that has yet to be explained away (heck, it usually isn’t even addressed) by skeptics.

Crop circles predate any admitted hoaxers by many years. They were recorded as early as 1678 in Hertfordshire, England, though modern circle creation is said to have begun in 1966 in Tully, England. Outside of Adelaide, Australia in 1973, a rash of circular formations, called "saucer nests" by the sensationalist press, were discovered in a wheat field. Amused and irritated by the commotion was none other than a tourist named Dave Chorley, who took to recreating it in England when he returned home—but he disavowed any connection to the Australian circles. In addition to the historical scope of crop circles, there is the question of sheer numbers. Thousands of circles have been created in over 30 countries, including the above mentioned as well as Canada, the United States, the former Soviet Union, and Japan. If there is a (human) conspiracy at work, it has a truly impressive scope.

And some mysterious means. The plants found within crop circles judged genuine have some distinctive physical characteristics not shared by their neighbors. They are said to have a woven appearance, for example, and some plants that simply do not bend, like canola (rape seed), are found bent. The plants’ nodes are often found bent or blown (see illustration below), and the stems are of increased size, as if subjected to intense heat. The ground under the crop circles often seems to be dehydrated, even after heavy rainfall. Crops grown from seeds taken from within crop circles grow abnormally, and the seeds themselves are frequently noticeably smaller than the average. On the other hand, some fields in which the circles appear have an increased yield—up 30 to 40% in one instance. Researchers have measured higher (up to ten times the normal) electromagnetic readings within circles. Plant and soil samples have been found to be two to three times as radioactive as those taken from surrounding areas are. The DNA of affected plants tested in the same study (conducted in 1991 by nuclear physicists Michael Chorost and Marshal Dudley) was found to be more degraded than that of its neighbors. Researchers and other observers who encountered crop circles have reported feeling ill and hearing "trilling" sounds. Animals have become ill or agitated upon nearing or entering crop circles.

This fashionable fractal design is almost certainly a fake.

Claims are often made about the mathematics of crop circle design, and subtitles that would elude the so called ordinary hoaxer, but as some of the "artists" have admitted using computers to plan their designs (including such faddish images as fractals), I’m dubious about this course of reasoning. Furthermore, there are suspicious coincidences in crop circle design, such as articles noting that straight lines did not seem to occur in crop circles…followed almost immediately by straight lines occurring in crop circles. Temping as it is to say that the simpler the crop circle, the more likely it is to be genuine, I have to note that the field with the dramatic increase in production mentioned above had a crop circle in the shape of a double helix.

So, if there are "genuine" crop circles, what causes them? There are no satisfactory answers, though the one about electrified air that creates mini-tornadoes and strange lights (Terence Meaden’s "Plasma Vortex Theory") is pretty good. My personal favorite relates to the Foo Fighters mentioned by both Allied and Axis pilots during World War II. These were bright balls of light, which were, by all appearances, intelligently controlled. Seemingly purposeful balls of light and a mysterious glow above the fields have been witnessed many times over fields where crop circles were discovered the following day. There is a famous (for what it is) videotape of balls of light which seem to create a crop circle as the tape rolls, and another which purports to show British military helicopters in pursuit of such balls.

For the record, the first videotape is of dubious origin and the British military unequivocally states the aircraft were out on maneuvers and the lights were mere reflections. But Foo Fighters are my favorite candidate because they, like crop circles, were strange and fascinating, but basically harmless. They just seem to go together.

Written by Sharon C. McGovern

From Volume 36

A Scathing Review of Signs

Back to The Cobra's Ghost

Normal nodes...

Nodes from a genuine crop circle.