For the last 20 years, we have been in a bumper period for crop circles — the beautiful, mysterious patterns of flattened crops that have appeared in fields around the world.
The formations attracted a worldwide following as they began proliferating in the fields of England in the 1980s. Growing numbers of people roamed the English countryside, hoping to find out why the circles appeared overnight without anyone witnessing how they were made. Some went just to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of the formations, which are created when stalks are flattened to the ground in a symmetrical pattern within a field of crops.
Speculation abounded: Maybe they were made by extraterrestrials; maybe some kind of weather or military phenomenon was involved; maybe they had something to do with Stonehenge and Avebury, the ancient circular stone complexes near where many of the crop circles appeared. One researcher theorized that the circles are connected to energy lines in the Earth that intersect the ancient sites.
Colin Andrews, an electrical engineer who became an acknowledged world expert on the phenomenon, believed there must be some intent behind the crop circles. "I am totally convinced that we are looking at some form of intelligence," he told me when I first met him in 1990. Andrews, who has studied and written about crop circles for more than 20 years, said he came to that conclusion after his investigations showed there were some circles in which the plants were not damaged at all, but compressed to the ground and continuing to grow.
Hoaxers Come Forward
As they drew more attention, the patterns got more complex. They included clusters of circles arranged in geometric patterns, sometimes connected by straight lines. Around 1990, Andrews and others began to suspect that some of the new circles were hoaxes. The straight lines, he told me recently, "looked to be very unnatural."
In fact, two hoaxers came forward in 1991. Doug Bower and Dave Chorley claimed that after a night of drinking in a pub, they began making circles in 1978 using the simplest of implements — a six-foot board on a rope — to trample down crops so that the stems fell into ever-widening circles and ever more complex formations. "We used to journey over 200 miles some evenings," Bower told me. "It's a marvelous feeling? Everybody's in bed. You're the only two people in that vast expanse of land."
Bower and Chorley could not account for all of the formations, of course. The circles began appearing by the hundreds in the 1990s. Bower said other hoaxers began to imitate him in 1986.
True Believers Not Deterred
But to those who had already dedicated a decade or more to studying the circles, and others who began traveling to England to view the formations during the summers when they appeared, hoaxes could not explain away the entire phenomenon. Chorley and Bower were dismissed as con artists whose circles were a publicity stunt at best, and deliberate "disinformation" at worst.
"If there is this team of people, they are massively funded," a London businessman named Michael Glickman told me in 1995. "They are erudite in geometry and drawing and proportion. They are capable of invisibility because they've never been seen or caught. They are capable of floating above the ground, because they've never left a track. What is their motive please?"