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In the late 1970s, strange circles began to appear in fields throughout the English countryside. Isolated cases had been witnessed before, but this was becoming too common to ignore. Was this a freak of nature, or intelligent design? It was in 1981 that media interest catapulted the crop circle phenomenon into the mainstream. In a field at Cheesefoot Head in Hampshire, a 52-foot circle, flanked by two smaller circles exactly half its size was discovered. And the circles were aligned perfectly from north to south.


The crop circle phenomenon can be traced back as far as 1590, with a document referring to strange shapes appearing in wheat fields. The Mowing-Devil pamphlet of 1690 also referred to a farmer’s field being inexplicably mowed in the night. When the crop circles of the 1980s became well known, some scientists said they must be the result of freak wind patterns. Others disagreed, saying the designs were far too perfect to be caused by accident.

By 1988, hundreds of crop circles were being recorded and they were becoming ever more complex. The meteorological theory was blown out of the water when in August 1989 the famous circle in Winterbourne Stoke, Wiltshire appeared. Inside a circle, the crop was bent in four directions in exact quadrants pointing to north, east, south, and west. It became known as the swastika. Was this more than just a hoax? For some, cerealogy the study of crop circles became more than just a hobby.

Then in 1990 the first pictogram appeared at Chilcomb Farm in Winchester, Hampshire. With two circles connected by a straight line and two rectangular boxes at either side, it was the first of many dumbbell designs to appear. Some people noticed a similarity with ancient symbols of the Sun God in cultures throughout the world, and their proximity to Earth’s ley lines. In the same year, a massive 603-foot pictogram featuring a row of nine circles and key-like shapes suddenly appeared in Alton Barnes in Wiltshire. It was so dramatic and intriguing, it made the front pages of the world’s press. Thousands of people from all over the world flocked to the site. Crop circle-mania had begun.

In July 1991, a formation appeared which took the phenomenon to a new level. The Barbury Castle tetrahedron in Wiltshire depicted an ancient symbol of the trinity, the symbol of creation. Local residents reported seeing mysterious lights in the area the night before. A nearby town also experienced a total power-cut. In the morning, the military had sealed off all access roads to the site for a military exercise.

Then, out of the blue, two pensioners named Doug Bowers and Dave Chorley announced to the press that they had been making the crop circles since 1978 using planks, rope, hats, and wire. Public and scientific interest in the phenomenon crumbled. Was the mystery solved?

Despite the hoaxers, the phenomenon continued throughout the 1990s. The designs became more complex, featuring insect-like forms, atomic structures, and fractal geometry. One of the most famous crop circles was discovered on Windmill Hill, Wiltshire. The Triple Julia Set of 1996 measured 900 by 500 feet, and consisted of 151 circles. Could a couple of men really create such precise logarithmic spirals in just a few hours in the dark, unnoticed? Even the hoaxers could not explain this one.

Strange Signs

Inside the crop circles, some people felt tickling sensations or nausea. Dogs would bark and not even enter. Electronic equipment would break down. And magnetic compasses would behave erratically. Researchers discovered higher levels of radiation inside the crop circles. The stems of crops were bent at unusual points, and often featured burnt holes, as if they had been heated up. Hoaxed crop circles, however, revealed broken stems, and normal radiation levels.

In 2001, two new crop formations were found near Chilbolton radio telescope in Hampshire. One looked like a human face and the other resembled a message sent by SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) from a radio telescope in 1974. The original message contained details about the human race – our DNA structure, decimal system, and our position in the solar system. The 2001 crop circle of binary code was almost identical. However, the details of DNA structure, the solar system, and other features were different. Was something trying to communicate with us?


Alien communication, man-made art, tornadoes, ball lightning, and microwave beams from satellites have all been considered as explanations. A famous, unproven theory, even cites vortical plasma energy as the culprit, working in harmony with underground springs, resulting in geometric representations of sound frequencies.

Sceptics dismiss crop circles as hoaxes, but despite years of research nobody can explain how some of them are made. People used to blame the devil; today, they blame aliens. Perhaps this leads to a widespread unwillingness to take the idea seriously. Even more fantastic crop circles are bound to emerge in the future. As long as the phenomenon continues, it will continue to satisfy our obsession with the unexplained. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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