LYRIC O’ THE DAY:
Another night I feel all right, my love, for you can’t wait
--Don’t Go, Yaz
It’s fall in Nebraska. That means football, apple cider, and following a John Deere combine for twenty miles down a busy stretch of highway.
This week for Sunday Mythbusters I present an homage to that spectacular art form of agriculture, the crop circle. Since the 1970s, sightings of crop circles--and the mythology behind their appearance--has grown exponentially.
|Milk Hill crop circle|
My cousins and I tried to make one in grandpa’s field using a two by four and an unwilling German Shepherd one summer. Unfortunately, I had just read Stephen King’s Children of the Corn. He Who Walks Behind the Rows ultimately beat out my prankster nature.
The earliest depiction of a crop circle comes from a woodcut done in 1678 called “The Mowing Devil.”
Text attached to the piece says that a farmer refused to pay a mower to harvest his crops, saying he’d pay the devil to do it before he’d pay the price the man charged. Rumor has it, the following morning his field was cut into a satanic design so intricate that it was impossible to blame a human for its creation.
Or was it?
The first modern sighting of a crop circle is the case of the Australia Saucer Nest incident in 1966. A farmer apparently saw what he described as a saucer-shaped flying object rise out of a lagoon near Tully. It left behind an ellipse of flattened reeds nearly 30 feet in diameter. Despite media sensationalism, the phenomenon was ultimately attributed to a whirlwind over water called a “willy willy” by the Aussies.
Since that sighting, 26 countries have reported over 10,000 crop formations. Ninety percent of those are in southern England. They are often associated with ancient monuments (i.e. Stonehenge) and with specific ley lines. Ley lines were historically suggested to be ancient pathways of travel and ceremonial worship by an archaeologist in the 1920s. Since then, they have morphed into a less tangible and more supernatural path imbued with psychic energy.
|North American ley lines.|
The phenomenon gathered worldwide attention in 1991 when two English sexagenarians by the name of Doug Bower and Dave Chorley came forward with the story of a prank spanning two decades. The pair got the idea to make crop circles from the Tully incident while fueled by the local pub’s finest lager. Using a plank, a rope, and a compass made from a baseball hat with a wire attached they created more than 250 crop circles. They were able to make one in a little less than an hour with their crude tools.
|A Doug and Dave circle from bibliotecapleyades.net|
Still, even with this admission, conspiracy theorists refused to believe, claiming Doug and Dave were a government attempt to discredit the phenomenon and the presence of paranormal activity. Some asserted that the men were linked to the British Ministry of Defense and the CIA.
Crop circles became the agricultural Beatles of Europe, even spawning an artist cooperative called Circlemakers who still create the formations for art and profit. Their most famous American client may be the band Korn, who performed in a crop circle Circlemakers designed outside of Bakersfield, California in 2010.
All of you Scullys out there are nodding your heads, totally convinced that man-made hoaxes explain it all. If you are a little more scientifically minded, perhaps you believe crop circles are a bizarre meteorologic creation, the result of tornadoes or ball lightning. Stephen Hawking supported this theory in 1992 by saying crop circles were likely formed by a vortex movement of air--if they weren’t a hoax.
Possibly the most comical theory came out when wallabies in Australia were blamed for crop circles found in opium poppy fields. Turns out Australia has acres of medicinal opium fields, and a variety of creatures come by to get their Limbaugh on. These marauding groups of wallabies apparently jump in circles while high on opium. Which begs for the question, how many stoned wallabies does it take to form a crop circle in Australia?
|"I see aliens."|
For those of you who channel your inner Mulder, I can’t leave out the UFO angle. Some are not fans of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies, but I love Signs. In the movie, the crop circles are marking beacons for a group of hostile aliens looking to harvest the earth. Indeed, many believe crop circles are some form of communication from an extraterrestrial source, although hopefully it’s not to give us the big intergalactic finger. In 1974, to celebrate the remodeling of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, scientists (including Carl Sagan) sent the Arecibo message into orbit. It contained binary code for numbers 1-10, the atomic numbers of the elements essential to life, a depiction of a DNA sequence, our solar system, a human figure and a picture of the radio transmitter itself. Three decades later in a field in the UK an “answer” appeared--with significant changes including the depiction of an alien humanoid. Debate over the validity of this crop formation continues today.
|The aerial view of the field with the Arecibo reply.|
|The two codes, side by side. In cross stitch. Croppies, those folks who believe in the UFO theory of crop formations, are very creative.|
The best known video suggesting that UFOs make crop circles was filmed at Oliver’s Castle in 1994. It shows 4 lights spinning above a field shortly before an elaborate crop formation appears. Unfortunately, the video was later declared a hoax. Undaunted, UFO supporters continually point out that hoaxers ruin and crush the plants involved--whereas “real crop circles” bend the plant in a way that suggests use of high heat or microwave energy that had to come from an extraterrestrial source. However, using a hand held magnetron and a 12 volt battery, one scientist was able to recreate the same bending effect, right down to the microscopic changes in the plant stem.
Carl Sagan in his The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark concluded there was no evidence to link UFOs with crop circles. And I guess that’s good enough for me.
Some of the most intriguing theories behind formation of crop circles may lie within the earth itself.
The Gaia hypothesis popularized in the 1970s states that the earth is one single complex system made up of all organisms and their surroundings. The earth is a giant work of symbiosis; crop circles (as well as other geologic phenomena like earthquakes and flooding) are messages in response to problems with the entire creature.
Scientists have built on this theory indicating that electromagnetic fields and energies from within the earth could be the basis of creating crop formations. An electrical engineer in the UK named Colin Andrews described magnetic impulses detected within crop formations. These impulses rotated up to 3 degrees about the center of the circle, and if strong enough could theoretically cause plants to lie down and twist into intricate designs.
The crop circle theory which resonated the most with me (forgive the pun) is the theory of harmonic geometry, in which sound waves create visual patterns.
A Swiss scientist named Hans Jenny caught on film the geometric patterns created as sound vibrations traveled through a variety of substances. With changes in frequency and medium came increasing complexity of shapes. In essence, Jenny “froze music,” creating art. Others refer to these as Chladni patterns, after the German father of acoustics, Ernst Chladni.
|A Chladni pattern created by sound.|
Indeed, people describe hearing odd trilling sounds in the areas in and around crop circles, although it’s unclear where the sound originates from--perhaps geological shifting. Using theorems of Euclidean geometry and diatonic relationships, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy Gerald Hawkins laid the groundwork to developing computer software that would actually measure the crop creations and turn geometry back to sound.
I would have thought it would sound more like rock and roll.
Then again, maybe they were just listening to the wrong crop circle.
|The King. Elvis isn't dead, he's just in space.|