Text © Freddy Silva

"Suddenly, I heard a noise. It seemed as if something pushed down the wheat. That night the air was completely still. I looked around. The moon had just appeared, shining brightly. In front of my eyes I could see a great imprint taking shape. The wheat was forced down in a clockwise direction." -Bryce Bond and Arthur Shuttlewood, first modern crop circles witnesses, Warminster, night of August 12, 1972

And by the appearance of a modest, elegant circle of pressed wheat, some 30 ft in diameter in southern England, so began the study of crop circles in our modern era. Two and a half decades and some 10,000 formations later, crop circles have grown into complex mathematical fractals, in lengths up to three quarters of a mile, and covering areas as large as 200,000 square ft. Crop circles- or agriglyphs- can now be found in 29 countries around the globe.

Since then, hundreds of simple, sporadic events have surfaced from around the world dating back to 1890; several cases even date to the time of Isaac Newton. Initially, the phenomenon was attibuted to freak wind vortexes, although why these created such perfect shapes in crop fields remained unexplained, after all, wind vortices and tornadoes generally rip things out of the ground.

One very crucial piece of evidence from the 1970 s posed an interesting dilemma for researchers and scientists trying to pin the blame on pranksters armed with rope and pieces of wood. In those days the fields did not have the hallmark tractor ruts (tram lines) that today cross the fields in parallel lines every 60 feet or so. This is very important in establishing the cause of crop circles, by virtue that a person trying to lay a perfect design upon the wheat would have had to do so by levitating. It could be argued that a balloon was used, although nobody has satisfactorily explained how a balloon could be maintained perfectly still four feet off the ground, around a wooden peg which, presumably, would enable a person to lean out of the basket while he moved the wheat in a perfect spiral, without damaging the plants and leaving no hole in the middle. And all this in the middle of the night. The debate raged on and all kinds of agencies were given credit for these mysterious circles- wind vortexes, little green men, poor soil conditions, sex-mad hedgehogs and, most popular of all, the plasma vortex theory.

But it was in 1980 that the phenomenon caught everyone's interest. Suddenly there were two circles in a field, lying symmetrically side-by-side. Freak weather condition advocates were suddenly dealt a blow. The following year, signs of intelligence were manifested when a 52-foot circle was flanked by two smaller circles exactly half its size, aligned perfectly north-south. This formation at Cheesefoot Head was also the first to attract serious media interest. By now, dozens of single, double and triple circular formations were being documented, all manifesting perfect spiral movement, with plants unharmed or broken, in circles etched with surgical precision from the standing crop.

Then in 1983 the first quintuplet design appeared- a large central circle surrounded by four smaller circles within the standing crop, precisely aligned to the four cardinal points. Four of the circles were rotated clockwise, the fifth counter-clockwise. Now even the army was devoting serious helicopter time to these occurrences, for here was something that was simply inexplicable. Unusual anomalies seemed to accompany the formations- dogs in the vicinity would bark incessantly from 2am to 4 am, just hours before a crop circle was spotted nearby; animals that ventured into new formations vomited, orange balls of light were observed; strange noises- like the rustling of electricity- were heard and recorded; and UFO reports preceded the appearance of formations. More importantly, the phenomenon showed intelligent reaction to the thoughts and theories of the researchers, either to communicate or lead them in a pre-meditated direction: when they said formations were caused by freak winds on sides of hills, the crop circles moved to flat, open areas; when men armed with planks of wood were suggested as the culprit, circles developed in oil seed rape (canola), one of the most brittle plants; if balloons were to blame, they appeared under high voltage wires.

By 1988, hundreds of crop circles had been documented and researched. And every year they had grown exponentially, always developing and splitting in structure as if suggesting some sort of language, more complex as the years progressed and at the pace in which the research teams picked up on the subtle clues left on the fields. Circles developed a simple ring, then double rings. Then Celtic crosses, where the four 'satellite' circles were connected by a thin band, too narrow even for a small child to thread without disturbing the crop. In 1988, during a BBC interview inside a new formation, the cricket-like warble that had been heard several times throughout the years was captured on tape. Eventually analyzed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it was measured as 100 bpm, at a frequency of 5.2kHz, and mechanical in nature. A bird or insect was also out of the question.

More formations began appearing in closer proximity to ancient monuments; Silbury Hill, Europe's own 'pyramid' received forty visits.

In one bizarre case at Corhampton, three single circles were placed mathematically correct within an equilateral area, making it the first crop formation to exhibit a musical diatonic ratio (above). Furthermore, its physical features were extraordinary. Here was a series of circles that had been previously flattened but now the stems were lifting back to the light of the sun in a selective manner, in three seperate groups. In the first group, plants were bending on the node nearest to the ground. In the second group plants were lifting up on the node half-way up the stem, and plants in the third group were bending at the node nearest the head. From the air, they'd grown into a pattern consisting of seven concentric rings and forty-eight spokes.

Circle fever began to break out among the public. Even the Queen put the acclaimed Circular Evidence book on her reading list. 305 known formations had now appeared and they were becoming more and more complicated, some even developing tails. Then on August 12 1989, the final blow was dealt to the favoured meteorological theory- the 'Swastika' at Winterbourne Stoke (left) became a quantum leap in crop circle language. Here was a formation whose crop was bent in four quadratures, exactly aligned to the magnetic compass points; at the centre the crop rotated and counter-rotated in three movements. At the boundary edge, another thin band rotated clockwise with crop weaving over and under the central combed quadratures. A hoax was out of the question, and an 'ouside force' began to be accepted as the creator of crop circles.

But nothing would have prepared anyone for the surprises in store for 1990.


Photo credits: © Colin Andrews, Pat Delgado, Busty Taylor 1980-89. Text © Freddy Silva 1997