Crop circles and conspiracy

The crops maturing in the field, and the occasional bit of sunny weather, can only mean one thing. The crop circle ‘season’ has arrived, with one of the first crop circles of the year appearing on a Wiltshire hillside on 21 May. This was no amateur design. It measured 300ft across, and was apparently a visual representation of a mathematical equation called Euler’s Identity (or a very symmetrical cake with little lines on it, if you’re less mathematically inclined).

Crop circles have a capacity to capture our imagination, whether you attribute their cause to some keen mathematicians in a field brandishing a few planks, or to a more paranormal cause. The craze appears to have begun in the 1960s in Australia, but only really took off in the early 1980s. Responsibility for many of the early crop circles in the UK lies with two men from Southampton, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who came up with the prank whilst sitting in a local pub in 1981. They drove around the country, armed with planks, rope, hats and wire, and began to make crop circle patterns in fields which grew ever more complex as time progressed. Nevertheless, their endeavours in southern England failed to explain the discovery of crop circles as far away as Australia, Afghanistan and Japan; or the current vogue for binary number designs, moving away from the pictorial designs of the 1980s.

The majority of crop circles are very obviously man-made, but it is that small percentage of particularly complex and perfect designs which has caused a plethora of conspiracy theories. The CIA and MI5 are frequently blamed, with theorists pointing to their large budget and extensive technology as proof – after all, if they can conduct their “war on terror”, the creation of a few crop circles in the West Country would be a relative walk in the park. An alternative hypothesis offered by these crop circle experts is freak weather conditions, with heavy rainfall and cyclonic wind action being proposed as causes. The New Age take on the topic is either that these crop circles are related to ley lines, or that “Gaia”, the earth, is attempting to warn us about issues like pollution and global warming through these circles.

The most famous explanation is of course that these circles are made by extraterrestrials, as portrayed to such brilliantly grisly effect in M. Night Shyamalan’s film Signs. Mel Gibson’s fields in Pennsylvania become filled with crop circles, his baby monitor becomes filled with alien communications, and an alien unfortunately gets stuck in his pantry, before the climax of the film witnesses Gibson and his beleaguered family trapped upstairs by these hostile aliens.

It perhaps goes without saying that this melodrama has yet to manifest itself in the UK. Wiltshire is, according to the Independent, the most active area for crop circles in the world; and, upon going to press, there have not been any hostile invasions of houses in the Stonehenge area. Alongside UFO enthusiasts and mathematicians, the crop circle phenomenon has also attracted the interest of the Royal Family. Colin Andrews, a crop circle expert, has letters that he claims show that the Queen had his book Circular Evidence on her summer reading list, and that Prince Philip subscribed to his newsletter on crop circles during the 1980s and 1990s. Time will soon tell whether this new ‘season’ will finally sate the Royal Family’s curiosity.