The Mystery of Crop Patterns

Talk about crop patterns (or crop circles, as they are more commonly known) and most people will tell you that they are formed not by UFOs or Earth energies, but by swarthy people, stealing into farmers’ fields in the dead of night, armed with planks of wood and balls of string.

While the vast majority of crop patterns are the work of clever hoaxsters, there are some that seem to remain a mystery and even recognised ‘circlemakers’ have said that they have had odd experiences, even in formations of their own design, but we shall come to these ‘effects’ later. So what are we to make of these genuine works of art, often hundreds of feet across, that appear in our crops, sometimes in broad daylight in only a few minutes?

Patterns appearing in cereals are not a new phenomenon, although most have appeared in the past twenty years or so, thanks to the circlemakers. One of the earliest accounts dates from around 800AD, when the Bishop of Lyon wrote of ‘flattened circles’ in corn and connected it, naturally, with devil worship, citing ‘magical storms’ as the catalyst for their formation.

In 1678, a woodcut was made, depicting ‘The Mowing Devil’. The story goes that a farmer engaged in an argument with his mower about the cost of mowing his field. Eventually, the farmer said that the Devil should mow the field and stomped away. That night, a strange glow was seen in the field and the next morning, round circles were found in the corn.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, crop circles were reported in fields quite regularly. Were human circlemakers responsible for all of these early incidents?

In 1991, two retired gentlemen called Doug Bower and Dave Chorley claimed that they were responsible for all of the crop circles. They demonstrated their technique, using planks of wood, string and a gizmo attached to their caps that allowed them to create perfectly straight lines.

Of course, Doug and Dave cannot have created the patterns from antiquity, nor could they have made those found in other countries, but their revelation cast a shadow of doubt over the whole phenomenon. It was firmly implanted into the public consciousness that all crop patterns were the work of hoaxers and things only got worse when other circlemakers came forward, claiming responsibility for some of the most complex patterns. These modern day ‘crop artists’ use computers to design their patterns and even a huge, complicated formation can be created in pitch-darkness in only a few hours.

Despite this, people have reported actually seeing crop patterns being formed, usually accompanied by balls of light. Often, these designs have appeared in a matter of a few minutes to an hour.

Colin Andrews, a champion of crop circle research (cereology) for many years, finally admitted that he thought that the complex patterns were the work of man, while the simple formations could be due to anomalous meteorological conditions. While this seems like a reasonable standpoint, many cereologists are still convinced that not all complex designs are the work of the circlemakers. Indeed, there are some fantastic designs for which no circlemaking group has claimed responsibility. Here are just three examples:

1. In 2001, a pair of patterns appeared in a field next to the Chilbolton Radio Observatory in Hampshire. The design seemed to emulate the famous ‘Arecibo Message’ that was broadcast into space in 1974 from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. There were some significant differences, however. Instead of a stylised human form, the Chilbolton design had a large-headed, alien figure; the depiction of our solar system was different, showing two raised ‘planets’ and a star-like object; and whereas the Arecibo message included a representation of the telescope’s dish as the transmitter, the Chilbolton design showed a copy of a crop pattern that had appeared in the same field a year earlier.

In the same field as the ‘message’, there was another pattern that depicted a humanoid face. Some have suggested it is a representation of the ‘Face on Mars’, that mysterious structure in Cydonia first photographed by the Viking orbiters in 1976.



2. A year later, in 2002, another intricate design was found in a field near Winchester, Hampshire. This one had what appeared to be the head of a ‘Grey’ alien, along with a disc with some kind of data and three, small ‘UFOs’. Believe it or not, the dots and dashes in the disc have been decoded and it forms a readable, if bizarre, message:


"Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES. Much PAIN but still time. BELIEVE. There is GOOD out there.We OPpose DECEPTION. Conduit CLOSING (BELL SOUND)".



3. In August of 2001, what became known as ‘the mother of all crop circles’ appeared overnight (during a rainstorm) at Milk Hill in Wiltshire. This remarkable formation consisted of 409 circles and was almost nine hundred feet in diameter! It remains the largest crop pattern ever recorded.



Of course, the fact that no circlemaking group has claimed responsibility for these designs does not make them the ‘genuine article’. There are legal issues to consider. The creation of the patterns would mean that the designers trespassed onto private land and caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to crops. However, this has not prevented them from claiming ownership of some other impressive patterns.

Either way, whoever created these things deserves a nod, not only for their artistic creativity, but also for their ingenuity in evading capture (the Chilbolton designs were formed in a field right next to a major radio observatory).

Earlier, I mentioned ‘odd experiences’ by people in some crop patterns. As previously noted, strange balls of light have been observed in or near patterns, but other anomalous occurrences have been reported. These range from hearing strange noises, such as buzzing, ringing or beeping, to ailments being cured to electrical devices becoming suddenly inoperative.

Researchers claim that reports of this kind indicate a ‘genuine’ pattern, but circlemakers themselves have claimed to have experienced weird happenings in their own designs. Matthew Williams, a circlemaker who has been prosecuted for his art, has admitted to experiencing paranormal events while creating a pattern. He said that he felt as though ‘something’ was watching him as he went about his stomping. Other circlemakers have admitted to seeing unexplained ‘bright lights’ moving over fields.

So how are ‘genuine’ patterns identified from those made by the hoaxers?

Researchers claim that genuine crop patterns (i.e. those not made by people with planks of wood) demonstrate features that hoaxed patterns do not:

  • The stems of the crop are bent and not broken, so the crop continues to grow, even though it is lying flat
  • The ground appears to have undergone a burst of heat, radiation or ultrasound
  • Nodes on the stems are ‘blown’, as though heated very quickly
  • The structure of the soil itself has been altered, as though by temperatures exceeding 1500C or extreme pressure
  • Genuine circles are not perfectly round, but slightly elliptical
  • The local electromagnetic (EM) field is altered

It must be noted, though, that investigations into known hoax patterns have also found all of these features. Believers maintain, though, that only in a genuine pattern will you find all of the above. It is also worth mentioning that while crop pattern incidents decreased during the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001, some patterns still appeared in affected areas.

It has often been pointed out that the damage caused by a large pattern can cost a farmer thousands of pounds in lost revenue, that farmers abhor these attacks upon their crops. That might be true for the most part, but farmers are a canny bunch and know when to turn a situation to their advantage.

In 1996, a pattern appeared in a field next to Stonehenge. It was five hundred feet wide and almost a thousand feet in length in the form of a mathematical fractal pattern known as a Julia Set. Although circlemakers claim to know who made the pattern, no names have been forthcoming. The design appeared overnight and believers claim that people stomping about the field for hours would have been seen by the security guards at the nearby monument.

The farmer who owned the field began charging tourists to view the pattern and within four weeks he had made himself the healthy sum of £30,000, considerably more than the worth of the crop itself!

Think about it. Farmers complain about circlemakers trampling their crops, yet, if they are savvy, can recoup their losses and more (hundreds of times more in some cases) in a short time. I think that many farmers would not only smile when a pattern appeared in one of their fields, but dance a little jig!

This has just been a brief introduction to the crop pattern phenomenon and there is a lot of material out there that goes into great depth on the subject in the form of books, DVDs, magazine articles and websites.

As of the time of writing this article, the first crop patterns of the 2006 season are appearing, so it appears that the enigma is still with us. Whether they are entirely the work of ‘crop artists’, non-terrestrial intelligences, the weather or a combination of any and all of these, it cannot be denied that they are beautiful to behold and it is one field (forgive the pun) in which Britain still leads the world.

© Steve Johnson 2006


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Updated 16th August, 2012