Round In (Crop) Circles

M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs to raise the profile of crop circles.

Round In (Crop) Circles

An example of a crop circle: Barbury Castle, oilseed rape, Wiltshire, England, May 3, 1999.

On August 2, Touchstone Pictures will release M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, a star vehicle for Mel Gibson, who plays a farmer that becomes famous after crop circles begin appearing in his fields. For the uninitiated, crop circles are patterns—man-made or the work of non-human, intelligent beings (depending on who you believe)—created by flattening crops in a pre-conceived fashion so that a recognizable design becomes evident. Determining the true nature of crop circles is difficult because crop circle artists (a.k.a. hoaxers), researchers, historians and enthusiasts rarely make definitive claims. While Signs isn’t likely to clarify any hot-button crop circle issues, it promises to be entertaining and will certainly add fuel an already lively debate.

Talking in Circles
Ask ten people from the crop circle community where and when crop circles first appeared and you will likely get ten different answers. According to Andy Thomas, longtime crop circle researcher, founding member of Southern Circular Research and editor of, “the very earliest account that may well describe a formation is from Assen, Holland in 1590, but the most famous example is the ‘mowing devil’ illustration, recorded in a pamphlet issued in Hertfordshire, England in 1678.” However, John Lundberg, self-professed crop circle artist and operator of, credits artist Doug Bower with creating the contemporary crop circle phenomenon in the mid-to-late 1970s. “He took his inspiration from the Tully ‘UFO nest’ case [January 19, 1966]—a swirled circle of swampland in Australia that was allegedly left behind by a UFO,” says Lundberg.

Regardless, there’s little doubt that in the last 15 years crop circles have become more common and more sophisticated. In the early ’90s the term “cerealogy” (the study of crop circles) first appeared. During this time cerealogists (crop circle researchers) of varying repute have popped up; they frequently publish books or release documentaries publicizing their work. There’s even an annual crop circle conference called The Glastonbury Symposium, a three-day event held each summer in Glastonbury, a small town in southwest England.

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