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Crop circles are a generic term used to describe the flattening of crops, usually in a circular particular pattern. They range between simple circles, to complex and intricate patterns and usually appear in fields overnight.

First observed in the 1970's, crop circles became a hot topic generating much debate over the various paranormal and naturalistic causes. In late 1991 Doug Bower and Dave Chorley announced that they had been constructing crop circles since 1970. Circlemakers.org, a UK-based art collective, have created complex crop circles since the early 1990s.

Crop circles are constructed using simple tools such as wooden planks, rope, and wire. Using a four-foot-long plank attached to a rope, they can easily create circles eight feet in diameter.

After the public admission of the original creators, crop circle activity skyrocketed. Each new design sought to be more complex than earlier designs. Today crop circle designs have increased in complexity to the point where they have become an art form in and of themselves.

In an interview with Mark Pilkington, crop circle maker John Lundberg spoke about this change in crop circle designs,

"I am rather envious of circle makers in other countries. Expectations about the size and complexity of formations that appear in the UK are now very high, whereas the rather shabby looking Russian formation made the national news. Even Vasily Belchenko, deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, was on site gushing about its origin: 'There is no doubt that it was not man-made... an unknown object definitely landed there.' If the same formation appeared in the UK it would undoubtedly be virtually ignored by researchers and the media alike."

Because the majority circles occur in the Avebury close to ancient sites such as earth barrows or mounds, white horses carved into the chalk hills, and stone circles, it has been hypothesised that crop circles are of paranormal origin. Some of the alternative theories that were bounced around include alien spacecraft landings, UFO's, mini tornadoes, ball lightning, and "plasma vortices".

How the Patterns are Created

Crop artists tend to use a map and computers to plot their circles out beforehand and some use GPS devices to help them create large patterns. Some also use more traditional techniques such as dowsing rods to identify prime locations.

Siting a crop circle above underground streams or in magnetic fields is thought to add authenticity to the circle while also helping to baffle those who want to unravel their mystery.

Venturing out in broad daylight can ruin the mystery of how a crop circle appeared so they tend to be created at night, away from the prying eyes of unsuspecting locals. Torches can attract attention, so instead the crop circle creators prefer to work by the light provided by the stars or moon after allowing time for their eyes to become accustomed to the dark.

By entering fields on existing tractor tracks and paths, crop circle creators can help to disguise how the crop circle got there. Sticking to hard ground also avoids leaving foot prints while careful movement through the growing plants helps to minimise signs that they were there. Once at the location for the pattern, they try to only walk in areas where the crop will be flattened so their presence can go undetected, helping to add to the mystery.

Using tape or string, most crop artists will measure out the design. Some crop circle creators use surveying equipment to help ensure their shapes are perfectly geometric and to keep lines straight.

Traditionally, rope attached to the plank is looped over the shoulders and a foot is pressed onto the wood, pressing it forward and down. This folds the stems and bends them in a regular pattern. By advancing in a shuffling gait they can bend all of the plants in the same, regular way.

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