A crop circle or crop formation is a pattern created by flattening a crop, usually a cereal.
Formations are usually created overnight, although some are reported to have appeared during the day.
In fact, the first real crop circles didn’t appear until the 1970s, when simple circles began appearing in the English countryside. The number and complexity of the circles increased dramatically, reaching a peak in the 1980s and 1990s when increasingly elaborate circles were produced, including those illustrating complex mathematical equations.
Almost as soon as crop circles became public knowledge, they attracted a gaggle of self-appointed experts. An efflorescence of mystical and magical thinking, scientific and pseudo-scientific research, conspiracy theories and general pandemonium broke out.
The patterns stamped in fields were treated as a lens through which the initiated could witness the activity of earth energies and ancient spirits, the anguish of Mother Earth in the face of impending ecological doom, and evidence of secret weapons testing and, of course, aliens.
A 1678 news pamphlet The Mowing-Devil: or, Strange News Out of Hartfordshire is claimed by some crop circle devotees to be the first depiction of a crop circle. Crop circle researcher Jim Schnabel does not consider it to be a historical precedent because it describes the stalks as being cut rather than bent.
The first film to depict a geometric crop circle, in this case created by super-intelligent ants, is Phase IV in 1974. The film has been cited as a possible inspiration or influence on the pranksters who started this phenomenon.
The Led Zeppelin Boxed Set that was released on 7 September 1990, along with the remasters of the first boxed set, as well as the second boxed set, all feature an image of a crop circle that appeared in East Field in Alton Barnes, Wiltshire.
In 1991 two hoaxers, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, took credit for having created many circles throughout England after one of their circles was described by an investigator as impossible for human beings to make.
On the night of 11–12 July 1992 a crop-circle-making competition with a prize of £3,000 was held in Berkshire. The winning entry was produced by three Westland Helicopters engineers, using rope, PVC pipe, a plank, string, a telescopic device and two stepladders.
In July 1996, one of the world’s most complex and spectacular crop circles appeared in England, across a highway from the mysterious and world-famous Stonehenge monument in the Wiltshire countryside. It was astonishing fractal pattern called a Julia Set, and while some simple or rough circles might be explained away as the result of a strange weather phenomenon, this one unmistakably demonstrated intelligence. The only question was whether that intelligence was terrestrial or extra-terrestrial.
In 2002 Discovery Channel commissioned five aeronautics and astronautics graduate students from MIT to create crop circles of their own, aiming to duplicate some of the features claimed to distinguish “real” crop circles from the known fakes such as those created by Bower and Chorley. The creation of the circle was recorded and used in the Discovery Channel documentary Crop Circles: Mysteries in the Fields.
In 2009 The Guardian reported that crop circle activity had been waning around Wiltshire, in part because makers preferred creating promotional crop circles for companies that paid well for their efforts.
A video sequence used in connection with the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London showed two crop circles in the shape of the Olympic rings. Another Olympic crop circle was visible to passengers landing at nearby Heathrow Airport before and during the Games.
A 2.8-hectare (7-acre) crop circle depicting the emblem of the Star Wars Rebel Alliance was created in California in December 2017 by a father and his 11-year-old son as a spaceport for X-wing fighters.
The world’s largest crop circle appeared at Dalponte Farms, one of the USA’s biggest mint farms, in Richland, New Jersey, on 17 May 2005. Discovered by farm owner Peter Dalponte that morning, it measured 55 meters (180 feet) in diameter and some 0.6 acres (1.5 acres) in area.
Since the start of the 21st century crop formations have increased in size and complexity, with some featuring as many as 2,000 different shapes and some incorporating complex mathematical and scientific characteristics.
To date, approximately 10,000 crop circles have been reported internationally, from locations such as the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, the US, and Canada. Sceptics note a correlation between crop circles, recent media coverage, and the absence of fencing and/or anti-trespassing legislation.
In contrast to crop circles or crop formations, archaeological remains can cause cropmarks in the fields in the shapes of circles and squares, but they do not appear overnight, and they are always in the same places every year.
Patterns similar to crop circles can also be made in snow, by using skis, snow shoes or just walking with ordinary shoes. Patterns similar to crop circles can also be made in sand.