Exploration Mysteries: Crop Circles

Crop circles straddle multiple lines between pseudoscience, folklore, and science-fiction. These iconic geometric designs or patterns come from flattening cereal crops such as barley, flax, or corn. They have been mostly synonymous with UFOs and aliens. Some believe that these colossal works of art are actually where spacecraft have landed. But crop circles are more rooted in reality than you’d think…

Creating images on the landscape is not a new concept. Pre-Columbian cultures like the Inca or Tiwanaku created these 1,000m long patterns on hills and desert plains for religious purposes. The Nazca lines in Peru, dating from 500 BC onward, are world-famous.

These so-called geoglyphs were created as a form of land art. They were a symbol or carried a message or theme. But no one really knows why or how crop circles came to be. 

Crop circle in Oxfordshire in 2020. Photo: Droneski Imaging/Shutterstock


The mowing devil

Written accounts of crop circles date back to the 1600s. A tale of a ‘mowing devil’ began to circulate in Hertfordshire, England. It told the story of a menacing demon-like creature that flattened or burned crops. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, circles started appearing on farmlands in southern England, especially in Wiltshire. It is likely that these circles were made overnight, within just a few hours. The flattened crops were perfectly shaped into a typically circular pattern, with rare instances of triangles and other shapes.

This was a time when UFO sightings were increasing and the idea of alien visitations was gaining traction in popular culture. Perhaps this came partly from Erich von Daniken’s uber-popular book, Chariot of the Gods? which dominated the woo-woo side of pop culture at that time. He made the case that many of these geoglyphs were alien in origin or represented extraterrestrials. The book has sold over 70 million copies.

Crop circles mostly appeared close to densely populated areas and historical sites like Stonehenge or the Avebury stone circle. In the 1980s, the phenomenon spread to the United States, Japan, and Australia. 

Most circles in the United Kingdom occur between May and September. Yes, crop circles have a season. This is because the crop is ripe, easy to flatten, and able to stay in place. Britain gets an estimated 30 crop circles per year. Eighty percent of them show up in Wiltshire. They vary in size. 


Weather Patterns

Some scientists have cited wind as a possible explanation. Storm winds can flatten crops. Some even suggest that cyclonic winds can create a whirlwind pattern. However, the wind will never create a perfectly geometrical pattern with intricate details.


Animals like hedgehogs and wallabies are known to create patterns when stimulated or in heat to mate. However, because of the complexity and size of the circles, this seems highly unlikely.

1678 pamphlet on the Mowing Devil. Photo: Wikipedia Commons



Crop circles have special significance in the New Age movement. Believers say that extra-dimensional entities or aliens create the circles to convey messages of peace or warning to humanity. 


This is the most plausible theory that scientists can agree on. Experts have debunked almost all the circles as hoaxes, created by human hands. Many artists and hoaxers have come forward over the years to claim credit for multiple circles. They admitted that they used just a few simple tools: planks of wood with ropes, wire, and surveyor’s tape.

Some have used a GPS and even lasers for accuracy. More than one person likely collaborated on the large, complex designs. In 1991, two men, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, gained fame for claims that they made hundreds of crop circles.

They said that they were inspired by the 1966 Tully ‘saucer nest’ incident in Australia. According to reports at the time, a farmer stumbled upon a crop circle on his land after witnessing a flying saucer rise from a swamp. 

Crop circle in Germany. Photo: Shutterstock


In recent years, people have begun to use the phenomenon as an art form and advertising tool. Many artists and even farmers from whom they received permission, profit from this unique opportunity. Crop circles have now become a tourist attraction. Recent circles also began to have a mathematical basis, such as the Julia set or the initial numbers of pi. This is undoubtedly indicative of intelligent life.