Cast your mind back to the early nineties. Quite
an eventful decade. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Nelson Mandela
president of South Africa, the USSR disintegrated and gave way to
democracy. Yet there was one, overriding topic of conversation in the
air. What was causing strange patterns to appear up and down the land?
Hardly a day passed during that long, hot summer, without more reports
from riled farmers that their crops had become victim to the
unexplained phenomena. By night, whole swathes of corn, wheat and other
crops, were becoming flattened, the morning light revealing mysterious
patterns. Some were small, simple designs; others were larger and more
complex. Whatever was occurring had caught the public
imagination.Thousands came from all corners of the globe, each hoping
to see a crop circle for themselves. Or better still, to witness one
Not even the prime minister escaped the furore. In one of the more
notable cases, a crop circle formation, consisting of several circles,
had appeared in the then Prime Minister John Major's country residence.
It had materialized inside the security fence, amidst anti-terrorist
security. The press speculated. One headline read: "NOW EXPLAIN THIS."
Had aliens landed at the PM's holiday home? Or had clever hoaxers
beaten anti terrorist security? Neither apparently. An official
statement was issued attributing the design to "poor soil conditions."
The rabid, media, feeding frenzy was being fed daily by the appearance
of yet more formations, accompanied by stories of UFO sightings and
abductions. But summer drew to a close, September set in and farmers
began to fell their crops. Media interest began to ebb.
Later that month the headlines exploded. Two men had come forward, Doug
Bower and Dave Chorley, both of whom claimed to have been responsible
for the creation of every crop circle that had appeared since 1976. The
duo, both in their sixties, described to the international media how
they had "fooled the world for the last fifteen years." But fifteen
years of running around in the middle of the night, jumping over barbed
wire fencing and eluding vigilant landowners was taking its toll. They
weren't "getting any younger"; the time had arrived to finally come
clean on their nocturnal tomfoolery.
To back up their claims, the men demonstrated their method in front of
the worlds press. Cameras rolling, they got to work. Using nothing but
a metal stake, a piece of string and a small wooden plank, the team had
managed to produce a perfect circle in less than half an hour. The
press had their circle and the public had its explanation. The party,
or so it seemed, was over.
The ET brigade and a hardcore of researchers remained resolute and
public disbelief did little to dampen their spirits. Although national
newspapers had stopped running stories on the UFO link, many people
still supported the idea, explaining the phenomena as being down to
alien visitation. An enthusiastic, American tourist, enamoured with the
ET theory, produced a huge formation of his own, spelling: 'TALK TO
US.' Further distress befell the relevant farmer when only a few days
later more of his corn became victim, only this time to a large tract
of ancient Hebraic text apparently fashioned as a reply.
Despite ridicule and a hostile press, researchers asserted that a great
deal of questions remained to be answered. In many peoples' eyes, Doug
And Dave's story was all too inadequate in accounting for some of the
more curious anomalies evident in around 20% of crop circles. These,
amongst others include:
- A bending at the node (elbow)
on the stork of plants within a formation. Nobody has been able to
explain how this is possible, as standing on corn, or oil seed rape,
would invariably cause the stems to snap.
- Laboratory analysis has often shown affected
plant matter to have undergone molecular change, the cell walls
becoming swollen and expanded.
- The ground underneath crop circles often
appears considerably dehydrated, the soil appearing broken and cracked,
even after heavy rain.
- Radiation levels within a crop circle have
been measured as being 10 times above average.
Even if Doug and Dave did somehow manage to produce the above effects
they have never offered an explanation how. Neither have they
endeavoured to account for their methods in creating some of the
Following the most reputed formation of 1996, the triple Julia set
fractal; an engineering company was asked to replicate the design. They
replied that due to the complex mathematical structure of the pattern,
the preliminary groundwork alone would take 11 days and use metal
stakes in order to map the design. It would also have incurred a cost
of over £5000. No evidence of stakes being used was there on
Windmill hill that day!
More evidence of Doug and Dave's mendacity became apparent during a
television interview with the surviving member of the duo, Doug Bower.
When pressed to give technical data he was unable and tried to skirt
around the issue. A leading researcher, Colin Andrews, also present on
the show, asked Mr Bower how he could account for 2300 recorded
formations, when he had claimed responsibility to only 200. This forced
him to back down on his original claim that he had been responsible for
all the formations since 1976.
There were still, as researchers had maintained, a great deal of
questions that two men, a piece of string and a stick, could not
answer, especially after the debunking of the most widely accepted,
sceptical theory to date. During the 1980's, well before Doug and Dave
surfaced, Dr Terrence Meadon, a distinguished scientist, formulated
what had become known as the 'plasma-vortex theory' in an attempt to
explain the phenomena. Meadon postulated that previously unrecognised
vortices were forming high above the ground and suddenly descending in
a lightning type strike, thus explaining the spiral swirl displayed by
a great deal of crop circles. His theory won considerable support. From
their lab in Japan, Dr Y.H. Ohtsuki and Prof. H. Ofuruton corroborated
Meadons' claims by producing similar vortices using electrostatic
discharge and microwave interference. Further evidence was provided in
the form of research by Prof. H. Kikuchi, also of Japan, who provided
theoretical models of Dr Meadons' plasma vortices.
As satisfactory as this theory appeared to be, it rapidly began to lose
face, as it could not account for the complex pictograms, that by this
time had started to appear on the scene. These were more than the
familiar lone circles of the 1980's. Groups of circles linked together
by lines and curves increasingly appeared. They formed geometrically
complex patterns, many of which drew reference to ancient religious
symbols, such as the Celtic cross and the Jewish Star of David. All at
once, Dr Meadon's plasma vortex theory was in dire need of revision.
The idea that simple vortices could create such intricate glyphs seemed
Many more theories surfaced, each vying to offer an adequate
explanation where Dr Meadon could not. All sorts of interesting
propositions came to light. Everything from earth energy, to military
experimentation were explored as a possible cause. Crop circle
researchers, of whom some had been researching the phenomena since the
seventies, were emerging more and more into the public eye.
Large-scale surveillance operations were mounted at Alton Barnes and
Bratton castle, two of the areas most accustomed to hosting crop circle
formations. Some of the fields in these areas were affected year after
year. High tech equipment was used. Cameras were set up, alongside
sound recording equipment and an infrared trip wire system.
The Bratton castle operation appeared to pay dividends early. In what
was to be a three-week exercise, a formation had appeared on only the
second day at the foot of the ancient hill fort. Although the creation
of the circle was not caught on film, excited researchers hastily
rushed down to the scene, amongst them photographers and journalists
all keen to get a slice of the action.
All concerned were then confronted with what was little more than an
amateurish hoax. A simple design presented itself. The corn had been
crudely and hurriedly trampled down. Left in its centre, as though on
purpose, lay a ball of wire and a horoscope game. Disappointed by the
hoax, the media presence dwindled, leaving only the hardcore of
researchers and a few steadfast onlookers.
Several days on and only 440 yards from the hoaxed attempt, something
altogether more compelling had cropped up. In a well-documented
incident a whirl motion had been seen by two of the researchers through
night vision lenses. The movement of this whirling motion lasting for
some 15 seconds, defining the shape of a question mark. An observation
was made of the field the very next day revealing a question mark
design imprinted firmly into the corn.
This was one of many alleged sightings that had increasingly been
coming to light. Members of the public and researchers alike had been
claiming to have seen strange light shows, hours before the appearance
of a new formation. Farmers too had often told stories of their herd
animals behaving in an agitated manner or refusing to enter a certain
part of the field, in which a new formation would show itself the next
Some eyewitness reports involved larger numbers of people and attracted
the attention of the international media. On Tuesday the 10th of July
1990, the residents of Alton Barnes, in the vale of Pewsey were rudely
awoken when all the dogs in the village began ceaselessly barking at a
heavy buzzing noise that permeated the night air. Those that managed to
sleep that night awoke to find that they were unable to travel to work.
Many reported that they couldn't get their cars to start; something had
rendered their vehicle batteries useless. Cars, vans and tractors, all
completely dead. Shortly afterward, the village's inhabitants became
aware that a vast formation, 603ft from end to end and quite the most
elaborate to date, had materialized in an adjacent field. Meanwhile and
only a few miles away, an almost identical pattern, in both size and
design, had appeared.
The earliest recorded eyewitness account of modern times was in 1972,
four years before Doug and Dave claimed to have started their hoaxing.
On the 12th of August that year, Bruce Bond and Arthur Shuttlewood were
sat on Star hill near Warminster admiring the night sky. From that
vantage point they claimed to have observed a crop circle forming first
hand: "Suddenly, I heard a noise. It seemed as if something pushed down
the wheat. That night the air was completely still. I looked around.
The moon had just appeared, shining brightly. In front of my eyes I
could see an imprint taking shape. The wheat was forced down in a
Despite the catalogue of sightings dating back to the seventies, the
crop circle phenomenon is not an exclusively modern one. Reports of
unexplainable circles appearing in the corn date back to the 17th
Robert Plot, professor of chemistry at Oxford and coincidently the
first to discover and record a dinosaur fossil, details what he termed
'fairy rings' in his book 'Natural history of Staffordshire', published
1686. In it, Plot describes his analysis of circles appearing in crop
fields around the county of Staffordshire, sometimes in groups of three
or more. The similarities between Plot's description of his 'fairy
rings' and the characteristics demonstrated by today's spectacle are
hard to ignore.
His observations include, circles with a diameter of 40yds or more,
soil dehydration and white sulphurous residues. All of these features
appear in many of the modern examples. He also drew reference to the
tendency for increased crop yield within the area of a crop circle in
successive years after it's formation. Of recent times, farmers often
report non-coincidental, increased crop yields of up to 30%. Prof.
Plot, winning considerable support from his contemporaries, concluded
that the circles must have been due to lightning. With that, he laid
his analysis to rest.
Over the years many scholars have stepped into the arena in an attempt
to shed some light on the enduring mystery, some apparently willing to
take a risk with their professional reputation.
An eminent astronomer, Dr. Gerald S Hawkins, formerly chairman of the
Boston university astronomy department, filled an especially
interesting chapter in the crop circle story. He had noticed that many
crop circles displayed shared distance and number relationships. Using
Euclidian geometry he discovered that he could prove four geometric
theorems that were re-occurring throughout the formations that he had
scrutinized. From them he was able to derive a fifth more general
theorem that embodied the other four. Each of the five theorems also
reflected certain musical, note relationships known as diatonic ratios.
Never, in such a way had geometric theorems been linked to music.
Keeping his discovery to himself, Hawkins threw down the gauntlet to
readers of Science news and Mathematics teacher, challenging them to
determine his 'fifth theorem' using the other four. The months passed
and still no one could discern the answer. What happened next was quite
remarkable. Whilst the scientific world was still chewing over the
challenge a crop circle had appeared in Wiltshire that Dr Hawkins at
once recognised as representing his fifth geometric theorem. He was
nothing short of flabbergasted. Sceptics slammed this latest
development as pure coincidence even though the chances of such a
coincidence occurring were millions to one! Whoever was responsible
appeared to have a particularly detailed knowledge of mathematics and
geometry. They must also have been apt at producing the formation, to
precise specifications, whilst in near total darkness and all within a
few hours. Quite a feat of human ingenuity!
Another academic to wade in was Dr. William C. Levengood. A practising
biophysicist, Dr. Levengood has a lab in Michigan at which he pursues
his studies into bioelectrical energies found in plant matter. With
over fifty papers for international scientific journals under his belt
and holding six patents, his professional reputation commands respect.
He became interested in the phenomenon as a result of his curiosity at
a strange bending in the storks of affected plants at a consistent
height above the topsoil.
After analysing some samples taken from a crop circle in England and
comparing them to control samples, he made some astonishing findings.
The affected plant matter displayed a swelling in the cell walls. More
strange still was that the pores in the cell walls had expanded and
become trapezoidal shaped rather than the more usual, smooth, rounded
shape. This led him to conclude that some kind of microwave energy must
have affected the plants at some stage during their growth. He also
found that he could easily bend the nodes of control material after
subjecting it to brief microwave exposure in a microwave oven.
Microwave exposure would also account for the intensely dehydrated soil
evident in crop circles where nodal bending occurs.
Levengoods' findings encouraged him to establish his own research
group. The Burke, Levengood and Talbot group is now one of the
forerunners in international crop circle research.
The organisation to have attracted the most attention, however, is the
CPRI group. Colin Andrews, a name synonymous with crop circle study,
founded 'Circles Phenomenon Research International' to carry out
general research into the subject of crop circles. Originally from
Wiltshire, Andrews sacrificed his position as chief electrical engineer
with the Test valley borough council, in order to spend more time
researching the phenomena. He is one of only a handful in the world
that does research on a full time basis. He is also co-author of the
best selling 'Circular evidence' a book that appeared on the Queen's
summer reading list, a Prestige's listing at the time.
With the best part of the last 20 years spent gathering information,
Colin Andrews boasts the world's largest crop circle database. Although
not a scientist, he is perhaps the foremost authority on the crop
circle phenomenon and has given discourses all over the world. He was
asked to present a paper to the United Nations and also travelled to
Moscow to present his findings to an international assembly of
Enduring early nineties media scepticism he has held firm in his belief
that there is something of a genuine phenomena. His CPRI organization,
based in Connecticut, famously attracted the attention of oil
billionaire and former U.S. congressman, Laurence Rockefeller, who is
known to have an interest in UFO's and matters paranormal. Mr
Rockefeller's involvement has been extensive. His funding has helped
secure a new computer system that exploits, satellite, global
positioning technology, helping to track formations around the world.
Rockefeller dollars have also paid for regular research flights over
Hampshire and Wiltshire in England. Private investigators have also
been hired in attempt to cast some light on what Andrews terms "a large
scale hoaxing problem."
Colin Andrews believes that the British public are yet again starting
to warm to the crop circle enigma: "Between 1990 and 1991 we saw the
peak in public interest. Just about every town pub and street in the
country was discussing the crop circle phenomena. Circular evidence
reached the Queen's summer reading list and the crop circle phenomena
was even mentioned in parliament. But that all dropped away with the
Doug and Dave claims. Since then we have seen the public interest inch
back again. I'm getting e-mails from all over the world asking me to
give talks and share information."
He also believes, after much research, that he may have discovered the
most significant development yet: "If these results prove to be valid,
we could sitting on the most exciting development to date. My tests
conclude that the magnetic field within 20% of crop circles is
consistently a few degrees rotationally out of sink with the magnetic
field of the earth. This would explain a number of things, the
spiralling motion of the crop and apparent moisture loss for example."
At his CPRI base, Colin Andrews presides over a burgeoning mountain of
data, regularly added to by his colleagues and ordinary members of the
public alike. Information that he believes provides undeniable evidence
that crop circles are a genuine mystery, not to be offhandedly
discarded as the work of pranksters. Pranksters do play a role and are
certainly responsible for some of the elaborate pieces of artwork, but
as Andrews says: "We are still 20% unresolved. With 20% of crop circles
we cannot see how they are made, as they show no evidence of human
Over recent years members of the scientific community have shown a
sudden and responsible interest and have begun to throw their weight
behind the good research that is already underway. Perhaps one day we
may answer the crop circle question. Perhaps it has already been
But as crop circles keep appearing in increasing numbers around the
world displaying bizarre characteristics, one thing is for sure;
whatever or whoever is responsible sure have their work cut out.
Copyright © Colin Deane
Deane lives and works in southern England as a freelance
journalist. He has studied the crop circle phenomenon extensively.