Crop circles are large circular patterns that appear overnight in the middle of grain fields (mostly wheat and corn) when the crop is quite high. The phenomenon has spawned its own science: cereology. Crop circles is also part of the UGM category (Unusual Ground Markings), which also include "tripod marks", saucer nests,burn marks, etc.
Most crop circles have been found in the southeast of England since the early 1980s, but others have been reported in the United States and Europe. Some have been exposed as hoaxes, but others remain unexplained. Crop circles range in diameter from as small as 3 metros (10 feet) to over 100 metros (315 feet). They appear overnight, and no tracks leading up to them are found, suggesting some external force from above is responsible. Visually, the stems are partially flattened, and entangled or intertwined. The plants are all bent and face the same direction, clockwise or counter clockwise. The crops are never damaged, broken, or show signs of forced bending. The plants continue to grow normally throughout the rest of their growing cycle. UFO sightings, moving orange lights, "whooshing" or warbling sounds usually preceed the formations of circles.
For the UFO crowd, the circles are signatures left behind by visiting spaceships. For mother-earth mystics, they’re the manifestations of deep waves of natural energy. For psychics, they’re the conscious results of remote-viewing experiments. For fringe physicists, they’re the tracks of ionized plasma whirlwinds. But the most likely is that the pranksters or circle makers are human that take fun in building such weird circles. As yet no conclusive evidence has been found for any of these theories.
One of the earliest reports was in Lyon in 815AD, and a late 16th Century woodcut depicts the devil mowing a field into patterns. They began to appear in significant numbers in the fields of southern England in the mid-1970s. Early circles were quite simple, and simply appeared, overnight, in fields of wheat, rape, oat, and barley. The crops are flattened, the stalks bent but not broken.
As the crop circle phenomenon gained momentum, formations have also been reported in Australia, South Africa, China, Russia, and many other countries, frequently in close proximity to ancient sacred sites. For the thousands reported every year, the vast majority go completely undetected. Most of the complex formations occur in the United Kingdom and they are also more likely to be detected because of the country's smaller land mass.
Over the last 25 years, the formations have evolved from simple, relatively small circles to huge designs with multiple circles, elaborate pictograms, and shapes that invoke complex non-linear mathematical principles. Since the early 1990s, however, the phenomenon has grabbed world attention, as the formations evolved into enormous, increasingly mathematically complex and perfectly executed shapes appearing in fields, often near the sacred sites of Wiltshire.
The largest to date, a perfectly formed spiral formation 244 metres in diameter, composed of 409 circles covering almost the entire field, appeared overnight on a rainy night at Milk Hill in Wiltshire Aug. 12, 2001.
The movie Signs, starring Mel Gibson, while universally scorned by serious crop circle researchers, nevertheless renewed interest in crop circles after years of the phenomenon being dismissed in the media as a sophisticated hoax, following the announcement of two elderly landscape painters named Doug Bower and Dave Chorley who confessed in 1991 that they had been making crop circles in English grain fields since the 1970s after reading about the Tully, Australia Saucer Nest of 1966. The truth is that they were both unable to draw a decent crop circle in daytime and to remember the exact location of their exploits.
Each year more than 100 formations appear in the fields of southern England. About 10,000 crop circles have been documented worldwide since records began to be kept in the '70s. Not including this year's formations, England tops the list with around 1,784, followed by the U.S. with 228, Canada with 135, Germany with 105, Australia with 71, the Netherlands with 62, Hungary with 23 and Japan with 19, most of them appearing in rice paddies. Dozens of other countries on every continent have also reported small numbers of simple formations.
Wiltshire County, UK is the acknowledged center of the phenomenon. The county is home to some of the most sacred Neolithic sites in Europe, built as far back as 4,600 years ago, including Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill, and burial grounds such as West Kennet Long Barrow. Some pretend that crop circles are usually aligned with ley lines, so you may discover new crop circles by following the lines.
Frequent reports of strange balls of light (some captured on video) and sounds prior to the appearance of formations added fuel to the argument that they were being created by some as yet unknown, either natural or supernatural force.
Other odd occurrences have been reported, like electronic equipment failing to work inside the circles, then functioning normally once taken out and abnormal magnetic and radiation readings inside fresh circles. Not only does the physical appearance of the plants and soil seem to change, but there is change at the molecular level.
Crop circle enthusiasts claim that there are other features of crop circles that undercut the hoax theory. They say that bends in the corn in many circles occur at the node, while the flattening of the corn by hoaxers produces a crack at any point in the stem, and some scientific studies on apical nodes bear them out.
Also they say that flattened corn often lies in groomed layers, rather than random crushings. There are in fact many cases in which believers declared crop circles to be "the real thing".