Crop Circles: Mystical, Meteorological, Man-Made, Or Messages From ET?

Oliver Grant
Published Date
December 30, 2016
Last Updated
September 28, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
11 min read
Posted in
Conspiracy Theory Analysis, Unsolved & Unexplained

They can be amazingly intricate, incredibly extensive and breathtakingly beautiful — though not necessarily circular. For decades now, crop circles have been mysteriously turning up overnight in fields in many countries of the world — in parts of the southern UK especially. They’ve been attributed to things such as supernatural forces, freak weather events, electromagnetic effects, extraterrestrials, and, of course, human hoaxers with planks on a rope — the so-called plankers. But have we yet found the definitive answer to the question of who or what creates them, how, and why?

A landed UFO in a crop field

Are ETs in UFOs creating crop circles?

It’s no good looking to the science establishment for the answers — our universities and research institutions. They’ve made no attempt to thoroughly investigate the phenomenon. It’s their judgment that crop circles aren’t worth investigating because they’re man-made. All of them. Case closed. The kind of “nothing-to-see-here-folks-move-along” attitude academia has towards the whole UFO/ET phenomenon.

So let’s take a look at what independent ‘alternative’ researchers have discovered since the 1970s, when the mysterious formations started to really capture the media’s interest and the public’s imagination. What have they found that makes the difference between a genuine circle and a hoaxed circle? What do they know that convinces them that some circles are made by forces other than human devilment?

Centuries of Circles… and Uncertainty

For a start, they’ve discovered that crop circles turned up way, way before the 1970s; as far back as 1686, in fact. That’s when Oxford University’s first Professor of Chemistry, Robert Plot, examined some ‘fairy circles’, as they were then called. He published his findings in A Natural History of Staffordshire, hypothesising that the cause was the effects of lightning. A couple of centuries later, in 1880, British spectroscopist John Capron had a letter published in Nature magazine describing several circles he’d found. His theory was that “cyclonic wind action” caused them.

And in the 20th century, The Bristol Evening Post printed a letter from a Christine Dutton testifying that circles were seen on her family’s farm from 1914 to 1956, which she attributed to sudden sharp winds. Not until 1932, though, did the first account appear with supporting photographic evidence; it concerned a group of five rings at Bow Hill in West Sussex.

First photo: 1932, Bow Hill. Circle just visible in foreground.

First photo: 1932, Bow Hill. Circle just visible in foreground.

One eye-witness described a circle actually forming. Writing to The Sunday Express, a Kathleen Skin stated that as a teenager in 1934 she was gazing over a field when she saw a whirlwind that caused “a perfect circle of flattened corn… hot to the touch”.

These are just a few of the 300 pre-1970s circles documented in The Secret History of Crop Circles by researcher Terry Wilson; he’s posted a selection of them on his website. However, none offer any definitive proof of a cause. It would appear from these anecdotal accounts, though, that one cause could be a localised vortex of some sort — a kind of short-lived mini tornado. Is there any research supporting this theory? There is; it’s one among a handful of contemporary theories.


Of course, the UFO/ET crop circle formation theory is the one that most fires the public’s imagination — and journalist’s keyboards. But where did the idea come from that UFOs and ETs are involved in the first place? Is there any evidence at all for a connection?

It’s difficult to pin down when the link between UFOs and crop circles was first made, but whatever link was already in the public’s mind by 1963 could only have been reinforced by the high-profile UFO event in July of that year. So high profile, it was mentioned in Parliament, documented by the MoD, and reported by the BBC.

A mysterious circular depression about 1ft deep, 8ft wide, and with a 3ft deep hole at its centre appeared in a potato crop on Manor farm in Charlton, Wiltshire — known as the Carlton Crater.

Witnesses saw unusual aerial activity, including an orange light streaking through the night sky… a farm worker heard an explosion at 6am… and the crater was discovered a few hours later. Unlike a crop circle, though, the plants were completely missing: no leaves, no stalks and no roots. The police were called, who in turn summoned an Army bomb disposal unit. Interviewed later, the farm owner commented:

“The thing was heavy enough to crush rocks and stone to powder. I believe that we’ve received a visit from a spaceship from another world.”

After several days of digging down into the crater, the Army came up with nothing… apart from a lump of rock they thought was a meteorite. But that turned out to be common ironstone. They quit, admitting they couldn’t explain what made the crater; the matter was closed.

Naturally, speculation about a UFO landing and taking off invoked the media’s interest, including the BBC, who sent The Sky At Night TV programme presenter and astronomer Patrick Moore to investigate. Moore later wrote to New Scientist magazine about the crater. But he also wrote about a number of crop formations he saw in nearby wheat fields. He thought it looked like the crater and circles were caused by something coming from the sky, the wheat having been flattened by severe air currents from that something. Though he though it unlikely to have been a satellite or aircraft fragment or “flying saucers from Uranus, Saturn, Alpha-Centauri or some other world.”

Those of you familiar with the iconic Cadbury’s Smash mashed potato TV ad featuring belly-laughing ETs might chuckle at the thought of a UFO leaving behind the Carlton Crater after making off with a few pounds of spuds for research purposes.

The incident actually featured in the 2006 Channel 5 documentary The British UFO Files. It disclosed that significant parts of the official MoD case file on the event remain secret… which might lead to suspicions that investigators unearthed something more than just a lump of ironstone.

‘Nesting’ UFOs in Oz

Another high-profile connection between UFOs and circles occurred a few years later, in 1966, near Tully in Australia. A farmer claimed he was passing by a lagoon thick with swamp grass reeds when he saw a saucer-shaped object about 25ft-wide slowly rise from it and then disappear at phenomenal speed.

When he went to take a closer look, he found a circle of swirling water in which there were no reeds at all. But when he returned later, he found that where the circle of swirling water was, there had now come to the surface a circular bed of floating swamp grass reeds configured in a clockwise radial pattern. The circle caused quite a stir in the media and was dubbed the ‘Tully Saucer Nest’. Similar formations turned up in years that followed.

The 1966 ‘Tully Saucer Nest’ in Australia.

The 1966 ‘Tully Saucer Nest’ in Australia.


The circle wasn’t formed in a crop so, no, strictly speaking, it wasn’t a crop circle. And, since no fledgling saucers were evident, neither was it a nest. But the story made good newspaper copy anyway.

ETs with Balls?

In the intervening years, though the UFO-crop circle connection has become more entrenched in popular culture, there’s never been any hard evidence for it produced. However, numerous people have testified to seeing incandescent orbs of about 12” diameter flying around crop formations — balls of light or so-called BOLs. These, some have speculated, are extraterrestrial in origin, perhaps controlled from an unseen UFO.

You can find numerous YouTubes purporting to show these BOLs in action; the most famous being the ‘Oliver’s Castle’ footage. The story goes that one morning in August 1996, while camping on a hilltop, student John Wayleigh captured footage of four of them moving around over the wheat field below him and a snowflake-shaped crop circle appeared in only seconds.

Experts examined the footage, declared it genuine, and believers in the ET/circle connection had compelling new evidence to support their belief. However, detractors subsequently attempted to debunk the footage, none more publicly than the History Channel, who aired a documentary in 2005 in which they interviewed the guy who shot the footage. He claimed that his name was actually John Wabe, not John Wayleigh; that he wasn’t a student but actually worked for a video production studio; and that the whole thing was a hoax. Here’s a clip from the documentary showing the original BOLs footage and the interview:

Though the History Channel would seem to be a credible source, doubts have since been raised about the documentary maker’s intent; whether they set out to genuinely inform or simply debunk and disinform. Was John Wabe even who he says he was or was he an impostor?

To: Earthlings, From: ET?

So, what should we make of the crop circles that purport to be messages from ETs to humanity? As in the case of the famous Chilbolton and Sparsholt formations.

In August, 2001, in a field adjacent to the Chilbolton Radio Telescope, Hampshire appeared a formation different to any seen before: a grid of cells, each with varying amounts of upright and flattened crop. Meaningless at ground level, it made sense only when viewed from high above: an image of a humanoid face. The cells were like the halftone dots of an image on newsprint. A very clever crop circle, or crop rectangle, indeed.

Ingenious cellular structure of the Chilbolton ‘face’ formation.

Ingenious cellular structure of the Chilbolton ‘face’ formation.

But then, 6 days later in the same field, up popped another rectangle. Again, clumps of crop in a cellular grid. But from above, this one looked like the ‘Arecibo Message’, [1] a transmission sent in 1974 from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico to star cluster M13 in our galaxy. The Arecibo message contained binary digits formatted to pictorially convey basic data about Earth and humanity to any ETs out there able to receive and understand it.

But the Chilbolton message was designed to give the impression that ETs had replied to the Arecibo message in kind, conveying data about their planet and species. The fact is, it’ll take 25,000 years or so for the Arecibo Message to reach M13, so researchers speculated that ETs venturing into our neck of the galaxy must have intercepted it and decided to reply. An even cleverer crop rectangle.

Aug 2001 Chilbolton ‘Arecibo reply’ and ‘halftone dot’ (right) formations.

Aug 2001 Chilbolton ‘Arecibo reply’ and ‘halftone dot’ (right) formations.


Decoded and compared Arecibo (left) and Chilbolton messages.

Decoded and compared Arecibo (left) and Chilbolton messages.


Roughly a year later, near Sparsholt, Hampshire, about 8 miles away from the Chilbolton site, came perhaps the most astounding ‘ET message’. It consisted of a rectangle overlaid by a circle, inside which were also meaningless clumps. Viewed from the air, the rectangle depicted the face of an alien, somewhat like the typical Grey, but the circle just contained a spiral of dots; no picture.

The 2002 Sparsholt crop circle: a cryptic message from ETs?

The 2002 Sparsholt crop circle: a cryptic message from ETs?

Researchers soon realised that the dots represented ASCII binary code and set about decoding it.

They eventually concluded that it said…

“Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES. Much PAIN but still time. BELIEVE. There is GOOD out there. We OPpose DECEPTION. Conduit CLOSING.”

What did it all mean? Was it really a warning from benevolent ETs? Or was it those mischievous plankers again? Perhaps a publicity stunt for the Hollywood film Signs, even, due for release a month later? The film starred Mel Gibson as a farmer, who discovers a circle in his corn field, which turns out to be the work of a horde of malevolent aliens who attack his farmhouse.

Signs: 2002 film with Mel Gibson, crop circles and aliens.

Signs: 2002 film with Mel Gibson, crop circles and aliens.


If we’re to believe the theory that it’s ET, not hoaxers, sending us messages through crop circles, despite the lack of corroborating evidence, one has to ask: if ETs really are trying to communicate with us, why would they choose to do it so sporadically, so indirectly, and so cryptically?

Nonetheless, a possible ET/circle connection is firmly entrenched in the public’s consciousness and will no doubt remain the theory most people wish to be true.

Is There Something in the Wind?

One of the first alternative researchers to put forward a science-based hypothesis — the Vortex/Whirlwind crop circle formation theory — was Dr Terence Meaden. A meteorologist by profession, Meaden thought that rotating columns of air that had become electrified and turned into plasma had ‘electrocuted’ the crop and bent it over.

Based on a totally natural, albeit rare, weather event, this theory held up for some time, but it could only account for simple single circles such as those described in the historical record. When formations of strategically arranged multiple circles started to appear in the late 1970s, it lost some of its integrity. And when the more complex pictographic formations with straight lines and non-circular geometric shapes turned up, starting in 1990, it was clear the theory was incomplete, if not entirely redundant.

The Heat Is On

The most rigorous scientific investigation into the cause of crop circles was started in 1990 by Dr. William Levengood, [2] an American biophysicist with his own lab; expertise in bioelectrical energies in plants, and 50 published scientific papers to his name. He developed the microwave heating theory.

Over a 10-year period, Levengood examined plant samples from more than 250 crop circles from numerous countries. Under the microscope, he compared samples from within the formations to control samples from outside the formations and discovered some significant differences. Chief among these were the differences in the plants’ nodes.

Wheat stalks have several nodes along them; on the formation samples, these had been enlarged and stretched by up to 200% and were the points at which the stalks had bent over. The nodes contain more water than other parts of a stalk and in some cases these had ruptured — referred to as expulsion cavities or ‘blown nodes’ — as if suffering from intense internal heating which had turned the water onto steam and burst the node wide open. The control samples were unaffected.

Stretched and bent nodes.

Stretched and bent nodes.


Expulsion cavities or ‘blown nodes’.

Expulsion cavities or ‘blown nodes’.


What could cause such heating? It turned out that this effect can be reproduced in the lab by heating stalks briefly in a microwave oven. However, Levengood was unable to determine where such microwave energy could have come from in open fields. One thing’s for sure: it didn’t come from humans with planks or rollers.

Circles Interfere with Earth’s Magnetic Field

One of the cereological community’s most well-known researchers and authors, Colin Andrews, has undertaken numerous surveys around crop circles with a magnetometer, which detects variations in magnetic fields and has come up with some very interesting results, leading to the magnetic field formation theory.

Andrews detected a surprising 120% increase in the Earth’s magnetic field in and around crop formations, lasting for several days. In a few cases, the profile of the increased magnetic field closely mapped the circle design. His results suggested that the magnetic dipoles were approximately 20ft above ground and 20ft below the soil surface. He’s also detected that the plants thrive in increased magnetic areas.

While this finding supports a fascinating correlation between circles and magnetic field interference, the theory can’t explain how magnetism alone can lay down crop plants, much less create patterns. Is it just a by-product of, or one of a combination of forces at work?

Other fascinating correlations are that the majority of crop circles have been found in proximity to ancient sacred sites and to aquifers — underground reservoirs of water in chalk that, as their levels rise and fall, can produce and electrical ground charge which some theorise could have a part to play in crop formations.

Is Mother Earth Trying To Tell Us Something?

And so we come to the least science-based, much less tangible crop circle causation hypothesis: the Gaia/Life Force Energies formation theory.

Developed in the 1970s by chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis, the Gaia hypothesis proposes that living creatures and organisms interact with one another and their inanimate environment to form a self-regulating, self-adapting, holistic system that maintains the conditions necessary for life on Earth. Believers in Gaia suggest that crop circles are a message from this system to humanity to change our environmentally destructive ways — a cry from an exasperated Mother Earth, so to speak.

This interconnectedness and co-dependency of all things resonates with the Life Force Energies hypothesis, which suggests that, just as human bodies have auras, chakras and meridians (as used in acupuncture), so does the planet. It, too, has auras; it has chakras, known as ancient sacred sites; and it has meridians, known as ley lines.

Adherents of this theory would argue that it’s no co-incidence that Wiltshire is the world hotspot for crop circles. It’s been estimated that 90% of all circles worldwide occur within a 40 mile radius of Britain’s oldest sacred structure, Stonehenge. And not too far away are the sacred sites of Avebury, Silbury Hill, Glastonbury, and the area is criss-crossed with ley lines.

If you, personally, hold to such ethereal beliefs, then the crop circle phenomenon is one amongst a number of mystical ‘New Age’ phenomena that holds truth and meaning for you. If, on the other hand, you’re more of a pragmatic, show-me-the-evidence thinker, then this crop formation theory will likely cut little or no ice.

But We’re Still Going Round in Circles

Despite the best efforts of independent researchers who’ve put forward a variety of theories, we still don’t have a definitive, unified answer to the enigma: who or what is making crop circles and why?

Yes, of course, many of them are man-made. Researcher Colin Andrews estimated that 80% are created by groups of plankers; other researchers estimate the percentage to be even higher. Some groups of plankers, like Circlemakers, [3] are quite open about it. Their skills are so refined that they’ve published The Field Guide: The Art, History & Philosophy of Crop Circle Making in which they reveal their methods, and they’re regularly commissioned by companies wishing to promote a brand. For instance, Nestlé paid them to create this one for their Shredded Wheat breakfast cereal:

‘Shredded Wheat’ formation by Circlemakers.

‘Shredded Wheat’ formation by Circlemakers.

But how could groups of plankers reproduce the scientifically proven effects, like magnetic field interference, microwave heating and other biophysical anomalies? Are they actually using secret, high-tech devices, not planks on ropes, that leave these traces? Some researchers have gone as far as questioning whether plankers have been recruited by the Military or other government agency as part of a long-term disinformation campaign; to muddy the waters around a phenomenon that does have a natural or otherworldly basis.

One researcher, Richard D. Hall, has uncovered evidence of a connection between Circlemakers ringleader John Lundberg and MI5, as he explains in parts 5 and 6 of his video Crop Circles: the Hidden Truth:

Whether you believe or not that crop circles are all man-made, that the government is complicit in obfuscating the truth, that supernatural or extraterrestrial forces are in play, one thing’s for sure: they’re likely to keep us in thrall to their ingenuity and splendor for years to come… and keep farmers in despair at the ‘cereal graffiti’ in their fields.


1 Arecibo Message, SETI,
2 Biophysicist and crop circle researcher W.C. Levengood passes, Open Minds
3 Circlemakers, Documents and research

Oliver Grant

Oliver Grant used to be a so-called Mad Man. Meaning he used to work in Advertising. However, he gave up all that corporate malarkey and is now a freelance writer. Six years ago he fell down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole and hasn’t been seen since, but he does send messages and musings about what he finds down there. Seriously though, his years of research and reading equip him well to write informative and accessible articles for on a variety of subjects — from ufology to exopolitics to false flags to climate manipulation. And more besides.

Read Oliver' full bio.

You can contact Oliver via email.

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  • Mike Suarez says:

    Crop Circles:
    They are Hyper-Dimentional Geometrical,
    that are easily persuaded to believe something credulous..
    They sure are Cosmology Crop Circles
    From above..

    Yes there are videos of several people
    making Crop Circles with very simple tools.
    But when it comes to the Perfection, Beauty and Complexity of those Geometrical designs..
    By no means possible can they be done with simple tools and lease overnight..
    So really we need to reconsider..
    And who ever is given the order to make them certainly is a benevolent Forces..
    Cause where there is Beauty and Perfection involved, there is also Love
    and affection by the laws of Nature.
    They Certainly mean something, like a language.
    Like the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics
    with means Holy writing ✍..
    A Language writing system..
    There is much more but …
    Is good for now…
    Love you all…

  • Boghos L. Artinian MD says:

    some crop circles are so complex as to be impossible for human beings to make them overnight undetected.

  • Ricardo says:

    This Image explaining the supposed answer from aliens printed on the English ground has a completely erroneous interpretation.
    After analyzing the components of their bodies, wich numbers are 1, 6,7… etc… they are really hydrogen, carbon.. etc. EXCEPT for the exception. The binary code that represents what you cal SILICONE (wich is not an element in the periodic table) is actually COPPER. the numbers 11101 correspond to 29. And 29th element is copper.
    If I’m wrong explain me why.
    You’re welcome.

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