Strange circles or unusual geometric designs have been discovered in cereal crops around the world, even in the rice paddies of Japan. The designs are often hundreds of feet in diameter and length and may cover many acres. While many people believe that crop circles are a comparatively recent UFO-related phenomenon that began in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the mystery of the crop circle is hardly new. Unexplained geometric designs occurred in the fields of wheat and corn in Scotland in 1678, and rural residents of England speak of the "corn fairies" that made similar designs in the fields in the late 1800s. Researchers have discovered accounts of the discovery of so-called fairy circles in fields and meadows dating back to medieval times throughout the British Isles, Germany, Scandinavia, and France. Recent evidence indicates that Chinese farmers found crop circles in their fields as many as 3,000 years ago.
In those cases of crop circles that have appeared since the 1980s, investigators have determined that the crops were biochemically or biophysically altered. Controversy rages over how these circles appear, as they are usually formed overnight and are not cut.
In 1991, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, two retired artists in England, confessed that they were responsible for making the crop circles that had baffled the world for so long and that they accomplished the most intricate of designs with a simple board and a piece of string. While the confession of Bower and Chorley satisfied a good many skeptics and journalists, serious crop circle researchers, called "cerealogists," asked how these two elderly gentlemen could have accomplished their hoaxes throughout the world in such great numbers. While admitting that there have been hoaxes, cerealogists pointed out that pranksters have been unable to create crop circles with the same precision and undisturbed nature as those circles thought to be of alien or unknown origin.
Regardless of general dismissal of the crop circle phenomenon by conventional scientists who remain skeptical because human beings could be perpetrating hoaxes, it would appear that there is a genuine mystery in the formation of many of the incredible designs that suddenly appear in fields around the world. Four of the principal theories regarding the origins of crop circles are the following:
English researcher Lucy Pringle believes that many crop circle formations are due to natural causes, such as the discharge of some electromagnetic energy, but she also noted that a particular design formed around April 21, 1998, appeared close to the prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill. She likened the double-ringed circle with 33 scroll-like bands between the rings to a Beltane wheel, an ancient symbol used at Celtic fire festivals on May Day.
Pringle has not been alone in suggesting that a nonhuman intelligence is perpetrating these mysterious manifestations, perhaps a familiar nonhuman intelligence, such as that group of beings commonly called fairies, elves or devas, which has played a significant role in the myths and legends of every planetary culture for centuries.
On July 19–21, 2002, a three-day conference of leading crop circle investigators was held in Somerset, England. Andy Thomas, an organizer of the meeting, commented that his 11 years of experience in investigating the enigma had convinced him of only one thing—that not all the circles were made by pranksters. Other than that, he stated, it was hard to say whether the phenomenon was caused by extraterrestrials, some kind of super-consciousness, collective psychokinesis (mind over matter), natural forces, or something presently beyond human awareness. Most cerealogists in attendance insisted that it is relatively easy to tell the difference between circles made by hoaxers and those made by what appears to be some kind of superior intelligence, imprinting geometric designs presently beyond the capacity of human beings.
On August 2, 2002, Touchstone Pictures released M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, starring Mel Gibson as a Pennsylvania farmer who discovers a crop circle in his field. The motion picture re-ignited controversy regarding crop circles and quite likely inspired numerous imitators who created mysterious designs of their own in fields throughout the United States and Canada.