In the 1960s something strange started happening on farms. Amidst the uniform blanket of wheat, spiraling circular designs were appearing.
These intricate and often stunning patterns that appeared overnight in fields of crops have puzzled scientists, farmers, and amateur sleuths for decades. While some argue that they are the work of human artists or elaborate hoaxes, others believe that they hold a deeper, more mystical significance.
However, for some circles at least, the solution was much more down to earth than the believers wanted to admit. This is the story of Doug and Dave, the men who conned the world.
What are Crop Circles?
But, before we get to the how, let’s cover the what. What exactly is a crop circle? Anyone who’s ever seen an alien invasion film, or the X-files, has likely seen one. A crop circle is a pattern created by flattening a crop, usually some kind of cereal.
The term is relatively new, having first been coined by a man called Colin Andrews in the 1980s. To some, crop circles are proof that aliens exist, to some they’re evidence that another supernatural phenomenon exists, but to many, they’re proof that people have too much time on their hands.
When crop circles first started appearing in the 1960s, during the height of UFO mania, people began referring to them as “UFO nests”. They then became increasingly common throughout the 1970s and the number of reports has substantially increased since then.
While most people think of crop circles as being a relatively young phenomena, their history actually stretches back much further than one might think. Some crop circles “experts” point to a pamphlet from 1678 as the first evidence of crop circles.
The Mowing-Devil: Strange News Out of Hartfordshire describes strange shapes being made in the fields of England. However, it describes the stalks as being cut, rather than bent.
In 1686, Robert Plot, an English naturalist described a strange occurrence similar to crop circles. He noted rings or arcs of mushrooms (aka fairy rings) which he put down to air flows from the sky. Some modern meteorologists have seen a link between his book, The Natural History of Stafford-Shire, and more modern occurrences of crop circles.
Then, in 1880, an amateur scientist wrote to the magazine Nature after finding several circles of flattened crops in the fields near his home. Rather than blaming aliens, he believed the cause to be “cyclonic wind action,” tornadoes basically.
The history of “true” crop circles doesn’t really kick off until the 20th century. In 1932 an archaeologist discovered four strange rings in a field near Chichester, England. Under further investigation, he found that the barley had been beaten down while the interior was slightly raised. No explanation was found.
30 years later in Wiltshire, England, a large crater was found in the middle of a potato field. In the fields surrounding the impact site, there were several areas where the wheat had been flattened in a circular shape.
They seemed to have been flattened in a spiral shape, which some people believed was due to air currents resulting from the impact. The astronomer Hugh Ernest Butler believed they were the result of lightning strikes. Still no aliens.
Then UFO mania hit a fever pitch in the 1960s. This started a surge of UFO-related corn circle sightings. In the August of 1967, three circles were found in a field in Alberta, Canada. The government sent in Department of National Defense investigators who believed the circles were artificial but had no idea how they had been made.
The most famous case came in 1966 in Tully, Queensland, Australia. A farmer claimed to have seen a strange saucer-shaped craft rise from a nearby swamp and then fly away.
Upon investigating the area, he found a large circular patch where the grass had been flattened in clockwise curves. Investigators from the local police force as well as the University of Queensland put the circles down to natural causes, most likely a down draught, dust devil, or waterspout.
Throughout the 1960s rumors spread of “saucer nests” being found throughout Wiltshire in England. Unfortunately, no one ever thought to photograph them.
As time marched on the crop circles began to change. Prior to the 1970s, they had always been simple circles, easy to explain away. But by the end of the 70s, the crop circles had become much more intricate, and much more difficult to explain.
Bower and Chorley: Pranksters Extraordinaire
What we think of as “crop circles” today can actually be put down to two men from Wiltshire, England. In 1991 Doug Bower and Dave Chorley made waves in the UFO world by claiming they had started the modern crop circle phenomenon in 1978.
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The two men were having a drink together one evening, and after having heard about the local “saucer nests” decided to try making their own. Using just a wooden plank, a bit of rope, and a baseball cap with some wire attached they managed to make perfect circles in the corn.
Many self-appointed “cereologists” (people who believe crop circles hide secret messages) refused to believe two normal men could be behind their life’s work. So, the two made a circle in front of journalists and invited cereolgist Pat Delgado to come and inspect it.
Delgado examined the pair’s work and declared it to be authentic. He was somewhat disappointed to hear it was a hoax. Bower and Chorley claimed to have made all crop circles running up to 1987 and over 200 between 1978 and 1991.
It seems pretty clear then that besides the circles caused by nature, Bower and Chorley were likely responsible for the rash of crop circles spotted in the late 20th century. Not everyone is convinced, however.
In the time the two pranksters claimed to have made 200 crop circles, a further 1,000 were spotted elsewhere. So far around 10,000 crop circles have been found, many of them in countries the two men have never visited.
Cereologists have claimed this is evidence that not all crop circles are man-made. As the circles have become more complex, with some including up to 1000 distinct shapes, believers have become convinced that the crop circles hold secret messages.
In reality, it’s clear that the two pranksters inspired a wave of copycats. Crop circles have become an art form, with some places using them to try and draw in tourists.
There are even annual competitions where people compete to make the most complex designs they can. It’s become big business in some areas, with some crop circle designers making good money using their circles to promote companies.
Like so many conspiracy theories, this one doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. Most amazingly, even with the confessions of Bower and Chorley, and all the evidence to the contrary, some people still believe. It’s hard to know if their insistence on believing is impressive or worrying.
Top Image: Crop circles are regularly cited as evidence of UFOs by those who want to believe, despite overwhelming evidence that they are man-made. Source: sirk_nala / CC BY 3.0.