What the Evidence Says About Crop Circles

An intricate crop circle in a large field as seen from above.

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Although science regards them as no more than clever man-made designs, many researchers say there is compelling proof that the origins of crop circles are unexplained.

The Evolution of Crop Circles

They began as simple circles laid down in fields of wheat, corn, and other crops. The first circles were reported in the 1970s in the English countryside. These might have been explained by natural phenomena such as a whirlwind, ball lightning, or another kind of natural vortex.

The formations became more complex in the 1980s, some taking the form of pictograms that seemed to be ciphers or messages of unknown meaning. Others were laid out demonstrating complex mathematical equations. These had to be the work of some form of intelligence, human or otherwise. The phenomenon continued over the years, and each summer season there were ever more complex (and often beautiful) crop circle designs.

Man-Made or Not?

The ongoing debate among many crop circle investigators and skeptics has been whether they are man-made or not. Many designs are clearly and admittedly made by people. Even veteran crop circle researcher Colin Andrew estimates that up to 80 percent of them are probably man-made. But some researchers insist that many formations are not — in fact, cannot be — made by humans.

Skeptical explanations for crop formations have ranged from the ludicrous (one early theory was that they were created by hedgehogs running in circles) to the probable (clever college students). The believers' explanations have been equally as diverse, ranging from the work of extraterrestrials to the idea that the formations are created by the Earth itself as some kind of warning to mankind.

Documented Hoaxers

On their side, skeptics have the confessions of such crop circle creators as Doug and Dave in the UK. In 1991, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, two somewhat elderly retirees, came forward and claimed that they had created hundreds of crop circles over the preceding 13 years using a plank of wood, rope, and a baseball cap fitted with a loop of wire to help them walk in a straight line. While their claim is called into serious question by some researchers, it is unquestioned that many crop formations have been "hoaxed" by people using little more than a well-planned design, planks of wood, and rope. Such hoaxers have proved before witnesses and television cameras that they can create large, elaborate designs in just a few hours.

The Best Crop Circle Evidence

But what of the assertion that crop formations are created by some supernatural, extraterrestrial, or paranormal force? What is the evidence that compels some researchers to conclude that crop circles are almost certainly are not man-made? There are peculiarities to "genuine" crop circles, these researchers say, that cannot be created or hoaxed by humans. Here is some of the often-cited evidence:

  • Number, complexity, and placement of crop circles.
  • A highly intricate, mathematical design.
  • Changes to plants. Some studies tested plants from inside and outside the circle in the same field and claim to find differences.
  • Electromagnetic, radioactive, and physical effects claimed to be detected in the soil or plants in crop circles.
  • Eyewitnesses and balls of light. There have been claims of seeing lights, strange clouds, and UFOs in conjunction with crop circles.


Unknown. "Plant Abnormalities." BLT Research Team, Inc, Cambridge, MA. 

Unknown. "Eyewitness Reports." BLT Research Team, Inc, Cambridge, MA.

Unknown. "Crop Circles — man-made or mystery?" BBC. November 11, 2002, England.

Tuohy, William. "'Crop Circles' Their Prank, 2 Britons Say: Hoax: The scientific puzzle may have been solved. Painters show how they flattened corn to form patterns." Los Angeles Times, September 10, 1991, Los Angeles, CA.