Scientific Viewpoints regarding Crop Circles

This page summarises the fundamental state of scientific knowledge regarding authentic crop circles.  From this,  readers may judge that true crop circles (as opposed to hoaxes) are a naturally-occurring phenomenon.

We begin with a publication in the prestigious journal Nature in 1880.  In that summer a description of crop circles was published by a scientist who was a frequent correspondent to scholarly journals of that time.  His name is J. Rand Capron, a spectroscopist who lived in the country at Guildown near Guildford, Surrey, in the south of England.    The reference is Nature, volume 22, pp 290-291, 29 July 1880.
   The content of the article is enough to prove that some of  the basic crop circles, of the type that came under scrutiny a century later in the 1970s and 1980s, were similarly non-artificial.   The marks which Rand Capron saw he described as having "a few standing stalks as a centre" of  what  were otherwise flattened circles, all  possessing "a circular wall of stalks which had not suffered."
    Rand Capron's account has been reprinted  in the January 2000 issue of the Journal of Meteorology  (ISSN 0307-5966: Volume 25, pp 20-21:  "A case of genuine crop circles dating from July 1880 -- as published in Nature in the year 1880").  The rediscovery of this crucial narrative was made by Peter Van Doorn in the course of  archival research arising from his ball-lightning interests.  Peter Van Doorn heads the Ball Lightning Division of the Tornado and Storm Research Organisation, for which refer to

     "The storms about this part of  Surrey have been lately local and violent, and the effects produced in some instances curious. Visiting a neighbour's farm on Wednesday evening (21st), we found a field of  standing  wheat considerably knocked about, not as an entirety,  but in  patches forming, as viewed from a distance, circular  spots.
       Examined more closely, these all presented much the same character, viz., a few standing stalks as a  centre,  some prostrate stalks with their heads arranged pretty evenly in a direction forming a circle round the centre, and outside these a circular wall of  stalks which had not suffered.
     I send a sketch made on the spot, giving an idea of the most perfect of these patches.  The soil is a sandy loam upon the greensand, and the crop is vigorous, with strong stems, and I could not trace locally any circumstances accounting for the peculiar forms of the patches in the field, nor indicating whether it was wind or rain, or both combined, which had caused them, beyond the general evidence everywhere of heavy rainfall.  They were to me suggestive of some cyclonic wind action, and may perhaps have been noticed elsewhere by some of your readers."

   J. Rand Capron was a strictly objective witness, and his report of 120 years ago is reliable independent evidence published in a responsible scientific journal.  Notice that he enclosed a sketch of the "most perfect " of the circles, which unfortunately the journal did not publish, and that his own conclusion with regard to the generation of the crop circles was that :  "They were to me suggestive of  some cyclonic wind action.", i.e. natural atmospheric vortices.    It is interesting how close are the similarities with some of the other known historical cases, e.g. the Constance Wheeler case which occurred during a period of severe summer storms (see Crop Watcher issue 23, pp 2-5) and the William Williams' examples of the late 1940s (see below), to say nothing of  numerous scientifically-studied examples from the 1970s and 1980s which are considered next.

Simple Circles of the Late 1970s and the 1980s.
   During the period of intense crop-circle studies undertaken over a hundred years later, many single circles and some groups of crop circles were discovered which had identical characteristics to those mentioned by Rand Capron, namely
(1) "prostrate stalks with their heads arranged pretty evenly in a direction forming a circle round the centre, and outside these (2)  a circular wall of  stalks which had not suffered".     In addition, several crop circles of the 1980s were found which also had
(3) "a few standing stalks as a  centre".
   As a 20th-century example, a splendid set of six small circles with these characteristics was sighted from the air on 5 August 1989 in North Wiltshire, and investigated soon afterwards by Drs. Tokio Kikuchi (Kochi University, Japan) and Terence Meaden (Physics Professor,  Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada).  Photographs are given as Figures 5 and 6 (page 16) and Figure 2 (page 60) in the book Circles from the Sky (Proc. First International Conference on the Circles Effect at Oxford 1990, published by Souvenir Press, London, 1991).  Besides these, four similar circles with a twist of central standing stalks were found at other sites that summer.  [However, note that since 1991, due to a change in research priorities, no additional airborne searches have been undertaken by CERES, the Circles Effect Research Organisation].
   From quite another source comes another example of a small tuft of standing stems at the centre of flattened circular corn.  This is given in the second edition of Crop Circles, A Mystery Solved (page 224, J. Randles and P. Fuller; published by Robert Hale).
Eye-witness Observation of Circle Formation in the late 1940's
   An eye-witness case from South Wales was brought to the attention of  researchers in 1991 following a letter to the Sunday Mirror. This was on farmland at Cilycwm, 6 km from Llandovery, Dyfed.
  Mr William Cyril Williams wrote: "With reference to the corn circles mystery I actually witnessed one being made.  I was standing in a cornfield one morning and saw a whirlwind touching the ground and forming a circle in the corn.  It was just the strength of the wind in the whirlwind that formed the circle".
  The event happened in the late 1940's when he worked on his father's farm, Penfedw Farm at Cilycwm.  He was then in his twenties.  The area is surrounded by hills on all sides, and circles had been seen there "frequently".  On this occasion, a weekday in August, at about 10.30 to 11 in the morning [or circa 0930-10 GMT] Mr Williams had gone into the wheat field on harvesting day in advance of the cutting and binding machinery, and was crossing the middle of the field when he heard the buzzing noise of a whirlwind starting up only a few metres away.  He then saw a spinning mass of air with dust in it, and, as he watched, in a matter of  "only a couple of seconds or so the wheat fell down producing a shard-edged circle 3 to 4 metres in diameter".  It looked just like the other crop circles he had seen before except that this one was completely flat-bottomed whereas some of the earlier ones had stalks standing at their centres like a conical pyramid.  The vortex then died out rapidly, but during its brief lifetime (under 4 or 5 seconds) it remained at the same place.
Theoretical Ring-Vortices
  Such observations are what would be expected of a descending ring-vortex of air, as proposed theoretically by Professor John Snow (Purdue University) and Dr Tokio Kikuchi (Kochi University): (Circles from the Sky, pp 54-67); see also J. Meteorology, UK, volume 17, 109-117, 1992).  This refers to the development of instability in an eddy vortex leading to breakdown of the core and the production of a well-defined ring vortex, followed by its sudden descent to ground level.  Under ideal conditions a small cone of stalks remain in the middle, but often slight oscillations or drift of the swirling agent can knock the pyramid over.

   To summarise: simple crop circles are not hoaxes.
   What are hoaxes are those other crop circles which are more complex than the small round ones described here.
   As regards the genuine species, there have been altogether some 25 eye-witness reports of whirling winds seen creating circular damage spots in fields.  A complete list will be provided on Paul Fuller's crop-circle pages (under preparation).
   What is needed now is good video film taken by the next eye-witness.

   Next,  a comment about inherent electrical effects.
  All natural whirling winds entrain dust particles into their circulation when dust is present.  Because of the tribo-electric effect, friction between particles of swirling dust inevitably generates static electricity on the particles, thereby ionising the spinning air.  When ions are present in sufficient numbers a detectable electric field develops.  Such fields have been measured by scientists working near whirlwinds (in desert situations where whirling winds are comparatively frequent if not predictable).
  References include:
  G.D. Freier:  The electric field of a large dust devil. J.Geophys.Research, vol.65, 3504 (1960).
  W.D. Crozier: Electric field of a New Mexico dust devil,  ibid. vol. 69, 5427-5429 (1964) and vol.75, 4583-4585 (1970).
However, the likelihood is that many if not most true crop circles are formed by the spinning forces resulting from the breakdown of eddy or other vortices (and not necessarily the fair-weather type of heat whirlwind). Any time of day is consequently possible, including the night.  Thus the possibility arises of  short-lived spinning airmasses being rendered visible in the dark as a weak glow of electrostatic origin.
'Tis strange but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction'.      G.G. BYRON

   It is the scientific viewpoint of  the Circles Effect Research Organisation (CERES) that crop circles which are more complicated than simple round ones are either hoaxes (deliberate pranks) or 'experimental hoax-like creations' for whatever purpose (e.g. advertising, film-making).  The teams of circlemakers who produce the complex designs become ever more experienced at executing arrays of circles which are sometimes planned at length over winter.  On some occasions farmers have colluded with the circlemakers to facilitate their efforts. Reported cases of complex crop circles as having appeared 'in a matter of minutes' are spurious --- and are the result of the field having been inadequately observed previously.

   It was the celebrated physicist Professor Stephen Hawking  of Cambridge University who declared in 1991 that  "Corn circles are either hoaxes or formed by vortex movement of air".  Cambridgeshire Evening News, 30. 9.1991

   Lesser scientists can hardly disagree with that.

Relevance of these discoveries for the people of Antiquity and their Monuments.
    If a well-regarded scientist, writing in Nature, can describe natural crop-circles of flattened corn with a circular wall and a standing centre which he saw in 1880 CE, then so could the Ancient Britons have seen similar circles in their cornfields or hay-meadows in 1880 BCE or 2880 BCE etc.   Therefore, the suggestion is that in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods of  Britain,  it is possible that the sites of some round monuments were decided by the finding of naturally-formed circles in the fields.  If a religious connection was made between the visitation of  a spiralling whirlwind and its subsequent ground-trace, this may have been enough to consider the site sacred and eminently suitable for the construction of a stone circle, round cairn, round house or round barrow.
  These ideas have been developed by Prof  Terence Meaden in the book The Goddess of the Stones.   A summary will be added here at a later date.
   The Goddess of the Stones. 1991.  ISBN 0-285-63031-8.  Souvenir Press, 43 Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3PA

                                                             T. Meaden,  CERES, February 2000