What's the Story With Those Amazing Crop Circles?

Crop circle artists confess that with careful planning, the work can be done in just a few hours very early in the morning or late at night when no one is watching. (Photo: Le Petit Poulailler / Three French Hens /flickr)

If you're looking for theories about UFOs and extraterrestrial life, you've come to the wrong place. Because though it's fun to believe in the mystery, the truth is that crop circles are more art than alien. Still, it's fun to suspend your disbelief, if just for a second.

Reports of patterns appearing in crops date back centuries, however most of these events fit into one of three categories: The person who claimed to see it was not credible, the circles were explained through a weather occurrence or agricultural practice, or the circles conveniently were not photographed.

Crop circle in a corn field near Avebury. Wiltshire in England. (Photo: Nick Hawkes/Shutterstock)

The first known crop circles appeared in the 1970s in a wheat field in Wiltshire, England, according to Smithsonian magazine, the work of two clever hoaxers named Doug Bower and Dave Chorley. At the time, that area of England, which is also home to Stonehenge, was "a center of UFO-seeking 'sky watches' [that] gave birth to its own rumors of crop circles, or 'saucer nests,'" the Smithsonian reports.

One night, Bower suggested to Chorley that they go make it look like a flying saucer had landed in a nearby field. So they did, and the crop circle phenomenon was born.

Elaborate crop circle in Switzerland. (Photo: Jabberocky/Wikimedia Commons)

Still, not everyone believes that crop circles are man-made. Cereologists are people who study crop circles and investigate their true meaning or cause. The fact that crop circles seem to be created in a short period of time without anyone seeing the process may give their claim a little weight.

However, crop circle artists confess that with careful planning, the work can be done in just a few hours, likely very early in the morning or late at night when no one is watching.

Crop circle in Tägermoos between Steckborn and Hörhausen, Switzerland. (Photo: Kecko/Wikimedia Commons)

Their artistic endeavors are not always welcome. It's one thing for a farmer to carve out a design in his own fields; it's quite another for someone to trespass on someone else's land and mow down their crops for the sake of a cool photo opportunity.

Matthew Williams, 42, was the first person to be prosecuted for destruction of a farmer's crops when creating a circle, according to The Telegraph. Since the article includes an extensive nine-step guide to creating a crop circle, we'll give you a brief overview:

Crop circle in Diessenhofen, Switzerland. (Photo: Hansueli Krapf/Wikimedia Commons)

First, pick a field and get permission to use it, The Telegraph says, and think about whether the crop is at the right season for harvesting. Second, plan a pattern; modern crop artists use tools like GPS to create large-scale designs. Third, gather a team and plot out the design using tape, string and any other tools you may need.

After that is when the crop flattening is done, which is usually done using wooden planks and rope. The most important step, The Telegraph says, is being done by dawn so you remain under the cover of darkness.

A crop circle in a wheat field at Wayland's Smithy in Oxfordshire, England. (Photo: Ian Burt/flickr)

As the Smithsonian sums up so well:

This art is intended to be a provocative, collective and ritual enterprise. And as such, it is often inherently ambiguous and open to interpretation. To the circle-maker, the greater the range of interpretations inspired in the audience the better. Both makers and interpreters have an interest in the circles being perceived as magical, and this entails their tacit agreement to avoid questions of authorship.
Crop circles in a remote agricultural outpost in Sharq El Owainat, southwest Egypt, as seen from the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory)

England continues to be the country with the most reported crop circles, but they can now be found scattered around the world in crops such as wheat, corn and barley. They're not always circles, of course; the term refers to pretty much any design. And they're not always done in the name of art.

In the photo above, an astronaut on the International Space Station photographed crop circles at a remote agricultural outpost in Egypt in the Sahara. "The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, buried beneath the sand, allows patches of agriculture to survive in the middle of the desert. The aquifer is the only source of water for Egyptians living away from the Nile River," according to NASA.