Yet crop circle enthusiasts and pilgrims, known as “croppies”, still flock to southern England each summer. For them, the truth—or some it anyway—is still very much out there. Here’s why.
10. Doug ‘n’ Dave discrepancies
At the height of crop circle mania back in 1991, two men in their sixties—Doug Bower and Dave Chorley—claimed to have started the craze. Taking responsibility for some of the most iconic formations, they informed the British news media and the rest of the world: “there’s no such thing as a genuine crop circle.” They flattened the crops using planks of wood, and counted the rings out with pebbles. As for circles appearing elsewhere, beyond their own stomping grounds of Hampshire and Wiltshire, these were imitations of their work. They even made a circle for the cameras.
For many in search of an answer this largely put the matter to rest. Even today, 30 years on, skeptics still point to Doug ‘n’ Dave’s story. But there are reasons to doubt what they said.
For one, they couldn’t make up their mind as to when they made their first circle. They initially said 1978, but, when it turned out the first ever photo was taken three years earlier, they revised it to ’75. Or rather Dave did, in 1996; Doug maintained it was 1978 until he died in 2018. Thing is, 1978 is consistent with a) what Doug told reporters with Dave standing next to him—that it was three years before they got noticed— and b) 1981 being the year local news took an interest.
In other words, if Dave was telling the truth, Doug somehow thought six years was three. But if Doug was telling the truth, they were both mistaken (or lying) about inventing crop circles in the first place.
Other plot holes concern the details of their methods. To tread the perfectly straight lines of geometric formations, Doug claims to have looked through a wire loop attached to his hat at a tree somewhere off in the distance. But since the head, eyes, and feet are not in fixed alignment, you can focus on a point while treading a zig-zag toward it. Others who’ve tried to replicate this method—including crop circle artists—have only made crooked lines.
There’s a lot more to Doug ‘n’ Dave’s story that doesn’t add up, but we have to stop somewhere. And anyway, crop circles are older than they are.
9. Historical circles
Crop circles have been appearing around the world since long before 1975. Anecdotal reports from farmers, many of whom knew them as children, date back a century at least. And the earliest printed record (aside from tales of demons, fairies, or elves leaving circles in grass) comes from an issue of the science journal Nature, dated 29 July 1880. Specifically, a correspondent from Surrey mentioned “curious” wheatfield depressions of “prostrate stalks with their heads arranged pretty evenly in a direction forming a circle round the centre, and outside these a circular wall of stalks which had not suffered.”
In fact, they may date back earlier still—much earlier. According to one theory, Stonehenge was built on a crop circle 5,000 years ago as a permanent record of its shape. As outlandish as that may sound, there’s actually a 4,000-year-old Zulu tradition of marking crop circles (izishoze zamatongo, the “writings of the gods”) with rocks, poles, and mounds of earth. In Zulu culture, they’re seen as important warnings. The bigger they are, the more urgent the message. And Aborigines have a similar view.
Crop circles have also been found in China, where the same theory—ancient stone circles as crop circle markers—has been touted.
8. Weird occurrences
Reports of unexplained phenomena in crop circles are common. These include “orbs” or bobbing lights and magnetic, electrical, or mechanical failures. Compasses spin erratically, pendulums are “pulled” to one side, watches run fast or slow, cell phone batteries drain, tractors break down…
On one occasion, a BBC TV camera was actually destroyed while filming a crop circle. Interestingly, the crew also picked up “powerful radio interference,” diminishing away from the center, that technicians couldn’t explain.
Investigator Colin Andrews had witnessed this sound before. Alone in a crop circle at night, he heard an “odd crackling sound” getting louder and louder, vibrating the air, before it stopped as abruptly as it started—apparently in response to his fear.
Two years later he heard it again. This time he and a team at another formation, again at night, heard it circle them several times. One of those present, investigator Pat Delgado, was even caught in its force: “his head went back,” then his whole body, as though leaning on or “glued to” the air. Only with considerable effort and help from Colin was he returned to an upright position. It has since been suggested this force is the creator of crop circles.
7. Circles on request
As made-up as this sounds, “wishing” or “praying” for crop circles to appear is actually quite effective. At least if you trust those who say so.
In 1988, Colin Andrews wished for a celtic cross to appear in the fields near his home and the very next day it did—in the only field yet to be harvested. In 1992, members of the Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence visualized their logo appearing in the sky and in a field, only for it to appear in wheat the next day. And in 1995, members of Southern Circular Research mentally “projected” a circle design that appeared the very same night—not exactly where they hoped but in the same county at least.
The list goes on. Another example from Colin Andrews suggests requests don’t have to be formal. Flying over southern England, his pilot friend once remarked to him how great it would be to see previous circles combined in a single design. And the next day he did—right below where his plane had been at the time that he made the remark.
6. Crop anomalies
The early days of crop circle research were firmly rooted in science—or at least in sciency words. Hydrodynamic phenomena and geomagnetism were among the first explanations put forward. But the most influential was Dr. Terence Meaden’s “plasma vortex” theory, which suggested the circles were formed (and lights/sounds explained) by “rotating fields of electrified air.” For a while, this theory was accepted. It only fell out of favor when more complex, pictorial, and intentional designs were discovered.
But the scientific research continued. In 1990, Dr. William Levengood, an American biophysicist, studied changes to the plants themselves. He found the stalks taken from many crop circles had what he termed “expulsion cavities”—tiny pinholes where the moisture inside had burst its way out as steam. He believed this was caused by split-second microwave heating. And this softening at the nodes or “knuckles” of the stalks explained how they were bent but not broken. Crucially, these cavities were not consistent with treading crops flat with a board.
Neither were the anomalous seeds. In a 1994 issue of the journal Physiologia Plantarum, Levengood reported “significant changes in seed germination and development” and “at the microscopic level differences … in cell wall pit structures.” Compared to control seeds from the same field, crop circle seeds grew up to five times faster. They could also be up to 40% larger with 40% stronger roots and considerably healthier grain.
5. The ‘Missing Earth Solar System’
Discovered in June 1995 near Winchester, the ‘Missing Earth Solar System’ was among a number of circles authenticated by Levengood. The crops showed the distinctive cellular changes he was studying. But he wasn’t the only scientist to find this formation extraordinary.
Astronomers were awed by its mathematical precision as a replica of our inner Solar System. Rings around the Sun at the center accurately depicted the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars with each planet positioned exactly where it would be on September 1, 2033—except for the Earth, which was ominously absent from its orbit.
Later research revised the projection to one day earlier, August 31, based on two further dates either side, each separated by 24,718 days. Naturally, this highly compelling circle was interpreted as a warning of Apocalypse.
4. Healing effects
Visitors to crop circles often respond in unusual and mysterious ways. Some are overwhelmed by sudden emotions while others experience telepathy. Some also claim there are healing effects—even just from looking at photos (suggesting the influence of mathematical resonant frequencies similar to the effects of music).
While this might sound a little woo-woo, the work of Lucy Pringle, another big name in crop circle research, has attracted the attention of scientists. Starting with her friend at the ‘Torus Knot’ formation in Alton Priors in 1997, she found crop circles could effectively pause the tremors associated with Parkinson’s. In her friend’s case, just 20 minutes at the center of the circle stopped the tremors for 24 hours. In later research with other patients, this was attributed to a spike in gamma wave brain activity between 30-72 Hz/s. And this was entirely in line with mainstream medical findings.
Not all crop circles offered this relief (as you might expect given most are man made). But in those that did, Pringle’s approach was scientific. With input from fascinated neuroscientists, she used control groups in all of her research: patients in the same field but outside the circle, patients not in the field at all, and participants without Parkinson’s disease.
Obviously there’s a chance that it’s psychosomatic; however, in one instance where a farmer harvested a crop circle she was planning to study, she found the effect was still present at the site. It’s also worth noting that in earlier research, she found mineral changes in bottles of water that she buried under crop circles compared to bottles buried outside them.
As Pringle said in 2017: “Something is happening in the circle[s]. And if only we could find out what it was, we would have, very possibly, a cure for Parkinson’s.”
3. Eyewitness testimony
The holy grail of croppiedom is to witness a crop circle forming. This would answer once and for all the question of whether they’re “real”. But actually there’s plenty of eyewitness testimony, and even some video footage.
The earliest date back to the 1930s. Typical reports involve the “strange crackling sound,” swaying or undulating crops, and sometimes whirlwinds. The swaying crop “laid itself flat,” said one eyewitness, “like the opening of a lady’s fan.” Dust and debris may also be lifted, swirling in the air then falling to the ground.
People are even caught up in this force, just like Pat Delgado. Among the most famous were a husband and wife who claimed it “scooped [them] off the path and into the cornfield” as a circle formed around them. They also saw a “transparent glowing tube stretching endlessly into the sky.” Others have reported the same. In 1966, a man saw a “translucent glass tube” create a circle in grass near Dover.
Lights may also accompany formations, and these have been caught on film. One video shows a light floating over a field and, in the background, a farmer seeing it too. Another famous report involved a huge ball of orange light descending into a field and leaving a crop circle behind.
2. The ‘Julia Set’
One of the most compelling formations ever to appear was the so-called ‘Julia Set’ of July 1996. Located right by Stonehenge, it comprised 149 circles of varying size in a spiralling fractal pattern 912 feet long and 500 feet across.
But what sets it apart from other big and complex designs is that it formed in daylight in less than 45 minutes. We know this because a pilot and passenger flying overhead at 5:30 p.m., “looking intently” at Stonehenge and the surrounding fields, didn’t see it but the pilot, flying back over solo at 6:15 p.m., did. So did the passenger, driving past in a car at 6:30 p.m. There’s no way they could have missed it before.
And in any case there was other eyewitness testimony. Stonehenge security guards didn’t see it earlier that day, and around 6:00 p.m., numerous cars had pulled off the road to stare at the site of the crop circle. According to one of those present, the design formed under “an isolated mist … sort of spinning … 2-3 feet off the ground,” with the crop circle forming beneath it. According to this report, it took not the full 45-minute window but only 20 minutes to form. By contrast, it took researchers one whole day just to survey and map out the design.
Furthermore, the ‘Julia Set’ is another formation confirmed as “genuine” by Dr. Levengood based on cellular anomalies in the crop.
1. Official disinfo
In 1990, the British Ministry of Defence (ostensibly) pulled out all the stops to catch a crop circle forming on film. Ultimately, however, Operation Blackbird just damaged the credibility of crop circle research and researchers—which seems to have been the point all along. As Corporal Darren Cummings put it: “We are here to prove that they are caused by people; the scientists are here to prove otherwise.”
The project, officially sponsored by the BBC and Japan’s Nippon TV, was supposed to involve state-of-the-art image intensifiers and infrared cameras. But in practice their range was limited. There were also supposed to be soldiers with night vision present, but they only lasted one day. On the second night—which (conveniently for the time-pressed organisers) was when a formation appeared—the soldiers were mysteriously absent.
The next morning was a media frenzy. Colin Andrews and Pat Delgado, summoned to the site and shoved in front of cameras, were hastily pressured to confirm the circle was genuine—without being able to inspect it. They were even fed false reports of UFOs overhead.
The Ministry of Defence also put on a show, issuing a D-notice to stop all transmissions and hyping a “mysterious item” found inside the crop formation.
Andrews and Delgado soon realized their folly. The six-circle formation was an obvious hoax, and whoever was behind it wanted that clear. The “mysterious item” (of which there were several) was the board game Horoscope—one in each of the circles.
According to Andrews, this was only phase one of a wider disinfo campaign. Doug ‘n’ Dave were phase two. The goal from the start had been to put an increasingly frenzied public off the scent of a genuine mystery. And, judging by attitudes nowadays, the campaign was a great success.