Unexplained Crop Circles: Hoaxes or Something More?

Updated July 29, 2021
Crop circle in a field

Imagine waking up one morning to find a huge pattern has suddenly appeared in your wheat field. What does it mean and how did it get there? Is it a hoax or a message from mysterious visitors from space? For those crop circles not proven as hoaxes, the mystery remains. However, in many instances, farmers suffer from crop losses while crop circle enthusiasts flock to see the strange creation and hypothesize who made it.

What Is a Crop Circle?

Crop circles are flattened patterned areas that appear in a crop field. They're often circular in design but not always. In most crop circle cases, the stalks of the plants are bent but not broken, and the patterns range from simple and geometric to intricate and complex. Some appear sloppily made, while others are startlingly precise. The popular crops for making crop circles include wheat, rye, barley, corn, and other grain crops. Most crop circles mysteriously appear overnight, created under the cover of darkness when no witnesses are about.

Crop Circle Hoaxes

The 1600s Mowing Devil Legend is perhaps the earliest account of a hoaxed crop circle. The story is found in a woodcut from that period showing a field of stalks in a circle and the image of the devil cutting it with a scythe. Legend tells of a fieldhand offering to cut an English farmer's oat field for an outrageous fee. The farmer proclaims he would rather pay the Devil to cut his field than pay the worker so much money. The next morning the farmer discovers his crops destroyed from being pressed down in a large circle. It's unknown if this is folklore or the tale of a disgruntled worker.

Mowing devil woodcut 1600s

A few subsequent reports from the 1600s to the 1800s suggest crop circles were simply flattened patches of normally standing crops. With no photographs to document these reports, these accounts are largely discounted as folklore or hoaxes.

Hoaxers often claim their work and brag about how they created them overnight. Sometime in the 1990s, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley stated they had been creating crop circles in England since the 1970s. They demonstrated how they used a board with a rope tied on both ends to flatten the crops as they pressed down on the board with their feet. Their first crop circles were quite simple. After one of their earlier crop circles was widely publicized, several copycats appeared all over the world. Not all hoaxers confess to their creations, and some crop circles defy explanation.

Other Manmade Formations

Not all mandmade crop circles are created by mischievous pranksters. Some are the works of artists, and others are created by paid crop circle makers for companies wishing to use them in ad campaigns. For example, in December 2013, in Salinas Valley, California, a crop circle appeared and at the time no one claimed to have created it. However, in the first part of January 2014, Nvidia, a technology company, claimed they had created the crop circle as a publicity stunt.

While these crop circles are clearly identified as hoaxes--or in one case, an advertisement--there are many that remain unexplained. This doesn't necessarily mean the crop circles were created by some mysterious force. It could be that the individuals who created them just haven't outed themselves or that the cause behind the crop circle has yet to be understood if it wasn't manmade.

Charlton Crater Crop Circles Mystery

One of the earliest 20th century reports of crop circles on record occurred in 1963 in Charlton, Wiltshire, United Kingdom. In July of that year, a farmer named Roy Blanchard discovered a roundish crater on his farm, sparking national interest in what could have caused it. Rumors claimed it was made by UFOs. The army came with bomb disposal equipment, but nothing was found and the crater remained unexplained.

However, British astronomer Patrick Moore was curious about the crater and declared the eight foot diameter was created by a small meteorite. Before this incident, there had been several UFO reports from neighboring farms. About the same time, other craters were reportedly found in England and Scotland. Some were much larger and refueled the crop circles mystery.

Tully Saucer Nest

Hoaxers Bower and Chorley claimed they were inspired by the 1966 Tully saucer nest discovered in Tully, Queensland, Australia. A local farmer named George Pedley discovered the crop circle. According to Pedley, he was driving his tractor on a neighboring land tract when a flying saucer rose from a swamp near a lagoon and flew away. The UFO left behind a flattened circle of swirled reeds that was about 30 feet in diameter. Three smaller circles were discovered. The swirls on one were clockwise, and another was counterclockwise. The center of the third crop circle was scorched. This incident remains a mystery.

Chilbolton Observatory Message

In 1974, astronomers used the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to broadcast an interstellar radio message sharing information about humanity. In 2001, crop messages appeared in a wheat field adjacent to the Chilbolton Observatory in Stockbridge, UK that appeared to be a response to that message. The crop circle messages were rectangle in shape and formed to replicate the Arecibo message with a few key changes that included the depiction of the solar system, the DNA structure, the representation of the "human" like figure, and some other details. It was subsequently pointed out that there were several inaccuracies in the crop circle message. However, many crop circle believers claim these discrepancies are because the DNA belongs to the aliens and the solar system depicts their home world.

Depiction of Arecibo message & response
Depiction of Arecibo Message
Picture of Arecibo Response

Crabwood Alien Crop Circle

In 2002, an alien crop circle featuring an alien face with a binary code disc appeared in a wheat field in Crabwood, Winchester, UK. The image of the alien looked very much like how they are depicted in movies and the descriptions of alien abductions. The binary message, when decoded, read, "Beware the bearers of false gifts and their broken promises. Much pain but still time. (Damaged word). There is good out there. We oppose deception. Conduit closing (bell sound)."

Pi Crop Circle

In 2008, an intricate and mathematically precise crop circle appeared in a field of barley near Barbury Castle in Wiltshire, UK. It was discovered on June 1 and quickly drew international interest as the most complex and intricate crop circle that had ever appeared in England. A retired astrophysicist named Mike Reed saw an image of the crop circle and realized it was a depiction of Pi rounded to the 10th digit. No one has claimed responsibility for the 150-foot crop circle.

Aerial Shot of Pi Crop Circle

Possible Explanations for Unexplained Crop Circles

There are many theories about the possible cause of crop circles. The most popular is UFOs. Reports of UFO sighting before or after a crop circle was discovered nearby spawned the theory that a UFO created it. There are other creative theories that include ball lightning, Earth energy fields, plasma vortex, and whirlwind patterns.

Cereologists study crop circles and try to differentiate between real and hoaxed crop circles, although many consider cereology a pseudoscience. Cereologists believe that real crop circles reveal expanded nodes in the wheat or other grains of the flattened stalks. Devices detect a change in the electromagnetic field within the crop circle, and dowsing rods are used to detect/indicate an energy fluctuation within the crop circle.

Mysterious Crop Formations

Many human-created crop circles are hoaxes, advertisements/promotional, and artists' works. However, many argue that sheer number of crop circles, precision, sizes, and complexity suggest some are alien crop circles. Crop circle enthusiasts believe they contain messages from aliens, communication from planet Earth, or something else altogether. Regardless of origin, unexplained crop circles remain mysterious and a fascinating phenomenon.

Was this page useful?
Unexplained Crop Circles: Hoaxes or Something More?