Historic Crop Circle Research

Crop circles in the Google Earth England 1945 Overlay
Historic Crop Circles in Aerial Photographs.

by Greg Jefferys MA, BA, dip Ed.
Copyright 2012
I would particuarly like to acknowledge the work of Terry Wilson, whose book The Secret History of Crop Circles was fundemental in stimulating my interest in historic crop circles. If you would like a copy of his book please contact Terry direct via his website Old Circles.


Abstract
When crop circles first began to attract public interest, in the early 1980’s, there was an effort by several groups of scientists to explain their occurrence.  However serious scientific research all but ceased in the early 1990’s due to a perception amongst researchers, and the general public, that crop circles were hoaxes perpetuated by a group of publicity seeking artists. Conversely it has been claimed by a number of authorities that crop circles began appearing in the English countryside at least 300 years before the period when the hoaxers claim to have begun their work.  Indeed a study of the existing literature dealing with crop circles indicates that this unexplained empirical phenomenon has been occurring in the grain fields of England for at least the last one hundred years in measurable, statistically significant numbers.

This paper will show, using aerial photographs primarily from the Google Earth 1945 overlay, that the number of crop circles appearing each summer has been relatively constant for at least the last 70 years and that these historic crop circles cannot be explained by the “hoax theory”. This removal of the validity of the hoaxers’ claims means that crop circles remain an unexplained natural phenomenon deserving of serious investigation by academic institutions and other research organisations.

Background
Crop circles began attracting considerable media attention and public interest in the early 1980’s riding on the back of the almost hysterical media coverage of UFOs. Then in 1991 two artists, Dave Chorley and Doug Bower claimed that they were responsible for the creation of all English crop circles.  They stated that their activities were intended as a UFO related hoax and that they began their activities in 1978. As a result of their claims they gained considerable international fame as well as travel and financial benefits. Later in the 1990’s several other artists began to garner media attention, and income, by claiming that they were also the creators of crop circles. All of these people claimed they created the crop circles simply; by using planks to press down grain crops to create a circle or circular pattern. These claims have been disputed by numerous people and groups who believe that most crop circles do not have a human origin.

It is reported that over the past thirty years more than ten thousand crop circles have appeared world wide and that various individuals and organisations have kept reliable and detailed records of annual totals.  These records indicate that about one hundred (+- 20%) crop circles appear each year in the English countryside and about three hundred, each year, world wide. There also exists a body of reputable scientific literature describing the appearance of well defined and unusual circular formations in grain crops that goes back to 1880 and includes a detailed description by the late Sir Patrick Moore.  One of these early descriptions, from 1932, also includes a photograph and diagram of a cluster of crop circles, in a field of grain, taken from the vantage point of a hill. 

Dr. E Curwen made this diagram and also took photos of a cluster of crop circles in 1932. His photo, taken from nearby Bow Hill is the first known photograph of a crop circle. Because of the low altitude of the hill and the angle of the shot only one of the circles is clear in the photograph however it clearly shows the “ring” style crop circle. For analytical purposes Curwen’s diagram is most useful as it shows all of the circles and their relationship to each other and the surrounding environment. Of particular interest is how the interruption of the formation of the circle by the fence and road did not stop the circle forming in the field. This effect has been noted in modern circle formation.


For information on other scientific journal articles that described crop circles read the work on the Historic Crop Circles pages (click here)
Apart from the above historic descriptions in scientific journals the most comprehensive record of pre-1978 crop circles is contained in the book The Secret History of Crop Circles by Terry Wilson.  Of the hundreds of pre-1978 crop circle reports collected by Wilson the first comes from a 1678 booklet known as The Mowing Devil (for a detailed analysis of this text click here).  As well as oral histories and newspaper reports Wilson also includes the above mentioned reports published in scientific journals.

Wilson’s thesis is that crop circles have been occurring in the English countryside, in significant numbers, for at least the past century and that they are not the result of human activity. Wilson further suggests that the claims by artists to have created the majority of crop circles as a hoax is, in itself, a hoax.

This paper is largely a response to Wilson’s thesis using technology that was not available to Wilson at the time he completed his work.

The simplest and most reliable way to test Wilson’s theory that crop circles existed well before the hoaxers began their activities is to study a complete set of aerial photographs of the English countryside from a period prior to the 1978 date given by the hoaxers as the start date for their work. If Wilson’s theory is correct a similar number of crop circles should be present in any given year’s photographic record of the English countryside providing the necessary statistical adjustments are made to allow for periods when crop circles are not likely to be present. These periods include the post harvest period of grain crops, when the crop circles will have been destroyed by the harvest, and the “off season” for grain crops, when there is no crop growing for the crop circles to form in. Put simply this means that for approximately two thirds of the year there will be no crop circles existent to be photographed.

Given that the only prerequisite for taking aerial photographs is that the day be cloudless and that cloudless days can occur at any time of year it is reasonable to assume that of any collection of aerial photographs of the English countryside only one third will be taken during the period when crop circles are likely to exist. On this basis, given that the number of crop circles taken to occur each year in England is approximately one hundred then any complete collection of aerial photographs of the English countryside in any year should show approximately 30 crop circles.

Whilst there are now numerous aerial photographic records of England the first complete one comes from the photos taken toward the end of World War Two by the RAAF, which are now available to the general public as an overlay, dated 1945, on Google Earth. At the time of writing (January 2013) this overlay has not been made available in its entirety by Google. About 35% of the 1945 overlay of England is presently on-line and that material available does not include the acknowledged crop circle “hot spots” around Wiltshire.

Method
The Google Earth 1945 overlay eye altitude meter is set at 650 meters +- 10% then, depending on the shape of the block of 1945 aerial imagery available on Google Earth, an appropriate starting point is chosen on the outer edge of the overlay and a grid search of the block is commenced by scrolling the cursor along North > South or East >West lines using the longitude and latitude indicator provided by Google Earth. At the beginning and end of each line searched a numbered marker is placed using the markers provided by Google Earth. Using this method the entirety of the presently available 1945 image blocks of England was searched by the author over many hundreds of hours.

Criteria
There are two primary challenges in searching Google’s 1945  imagery for crop circles. First is the quality of the original images, which are often, although not always, poor; this means that one has to be extra careful not to assume any circular shape in a field is a crop circle. In fact more than 98% of circular shapes that appear on the 1945 overlay are not crop circles. Most of these can be eliminated easily by using the time slide bar provided by Google. By moving to more modern image overlays of the selected location it is possible to see if the circular shape is repeated. If it is repeated then it is not a crop circle but a permanent landscape feature. Using this method a number of reoccurring circular features, which could be mistaken for crop circles were discovered, these included archaeological remains such as barrows and the foundations of round houses as well as ponds, golfing greens, sports fields, artillery targets, airfield markers etc.

Another source of circular shapes in the 1945 overlay is caused by faults, or flaws, on the film itself. Crop circles normally show up in aerial photographs, particularly black and white photos, as a light circular area within the field of a darker grain crop. This effect is caused by the fact that the flattened grain stalks of the circle refract light at a different angle to the vertical grain stalks. This effect is well documented in modern crop circle photography and can also be seen in the difference in shading in partially headed, or  partially mown, fields of grain. There are many examples of half mown fields in the 1945 overlay that clearly demonstrate this contrast (see fig. 1).



Fig. 1. A crop circle S.W. of Woodmancote in a half harvested field of grain showing the tone difference between the flattened grain in the circle, the harvested grain and the non-harvested grain. In this image the camera is almost directly above the field and it is close to mid-day so even the hedge is not casting an obvious shadow.
Because many of the original negatives used to produce the 1945 overlay were not well preserved there are faults resulting from either mechanical or chemical damage to the negatives. These often show up on the Google overlay as either very bright white circular spots or as lighter shaded rings, both of which might be mistaken for a crop circle. To distinguish a film flaw from a genuine crop imprint the presence of a shadow within the circular area, created by the wall of grain at the outer edge of the imprint, is required as a lighter patch caused by damage to the negative will not produce a shadow. Further a direct relationship between the shadow within the crop circle and other shadows present in the image, such as those cast by trees, hedges or buildings, is required before a value is ascribed to the circle.
(see fig. 2)
Fig. 2 Enville. This image shows the shadow from trees and hedge falling in same line as shadow within the crop circle. It is important to keep in mind that the wall of grain producing the shadow within the crop circle will not be more than 60 cm high whereas the hedge is likely to be at least five times higher. Obvious film flaws on this image include the two parallel scratch marks.
A further way of distinguishing a film flaw from an image of something in the landscape, particularly those flaws caused by some chemical effect on the negative such as water droplets or condensation, is if the lighter shade of the circle is imposed over something other than the grain crop, such as a fence, hedge, track or tree.

Results
After more than 300 hours searching the presently available 1945 overlay 64 shapes that were possible 1945 crop circles were found. Of those 64 shapes thirteen were selected that conformed strictly to the above mentioned criteria or had features which made them and worthy of further close study. A selection of these is shown below.

Asthall Lea. The poor resolution of the image showing this circle does not hide the shadow on its south edge and the absence of a shadow on the north is obvious. Its diameter is about 15 meters based on the width of the road.
Chapperton Down. This formation, whilst not strictly a circle is worthy of note when considered in the context of later, more complex, crop circle patterns. Initially thought to be a film flaw the fact that the formation does not overlay the hedge or roadway suggests otherwise. The 1932 diagram by Curwen clearly shows this well documented characteristic of crop circles not completing their perimeter when they intersect with an intrusive landscape feature such as a fence or hedge.
Halesowen: this classic crop circle is about ten meters in diameter. The shadow on its south east perimeter corresponds precisely with the shadows cast by the trees and hedges. The quality of this image is good enough to show there are no tracks through the grain crop leading to or from the crop circle.
Whiston Cross. Although the resolution on this image is poor the crop circle is quite clear as is the relationship between the circle’s internal shadow and those shadows cast by objects in the landscape.
Tatton Park. This cluster is included because it is reminiscent of the more complex crop circles that would appear in later years. I got quite excited when I found this image however, because of its unique design, I studied later Google Earth images of this location very closely and found a slight hint of the pattern in a 2005 image so it is certain that these are NOT genuine crop circles, though what their purpose might have been remains a mystery.  Any suggestions that can be backed up with solid evidence happily accepted. (Update: I am recently informed that Tatton Park was a training place for military parachutists in WW2 and that these patterns were related to the training of parachutists, apparently they were some kind of target for the jumpers to aim at???)
Conclusion
The number of circular features in crops that can be reasonably confirmed as crop circles that have been so far found in the survey of the currently available 1945 Google Earth overlay numbers more than one dozen. As this survey did not include more than 35% of England and excluded the known crop circle “hot spots” around Wiltshire the findings are consistent with an annual occurrence of at least 100 crop circles across the English countryside in 1945. This, combined with a significant body of historic records describing historic crop circles, gives the lie to the claims made by various 'artists' to be the originators and creators of all crop circles. This in turn begs the question “If not them, then who or what is responsible for the creation of crop circles?”  

It is not within the scope of this work to offer any kind of explanation as to what might be the actual cause of crop circles. Rather it is to point out that instead of the investigations into the subject being left to quacks and the pseudo sciences there is a need for serious scientific research. Whilst it is fair enough that until this point in time the various academic and scientific institutions and organisations who ought to have been investigating this unexplained phenomenon have not done so because of the claims of the hoaxers, this work, combined with the works of other scholarly researchers such as Wilson, Meaden and Levengood, shows that there are many unanswered questions on the subject of crop circles and that further research is needed before any serious speculation as to the real origins can be made.

Bibliography

Capron J.‘Storm Effects’ Nature Vol. 22, 29 July 1880 pp. 290–291

Curwen E.‘Crop Marks in Stoughton Down’ Sussex Notes and Queries 1937 p.139

Levengood W.‘Anatomical anomalies in crop formation plants’ Physiologia Plantarum Vol. 92: 1994 pp. 356-363.

Levengood et al‘Dispersion  of  Energies In  Worldwide  Crop  Formations’  Physiologia Plantarium Vol. 105,                            1999 pp. 615-624.

Meaden T.The Circles Effect and its Mysteries London 1989

Moore P.‘That Wiltshire Crater’ New Scientist, Vol. 19; August 1963 p.304

Taylor R. ‘The Crop Circle Evolves’ Nature Vol. 465/10 June 2010

Taylor R.‘Crop Circles’ Physics World August 2011 p.2-3

Wilson T.The Secret History of Crop Circles Plymouth 1998

Home
Appendage to the original article.

Since this article received a bit of coverage in the international media I have had a few requests for a more complete representation of the images of crop circles found in the Google Earth 1945 overlay so I include below a representative selection. Please keep in mind that, at the time I am writing this work most of the main crop circle areas in the south of England are not presently available on Google Earth 1945 so it will be very interesting to see what happens when those areas do come into the public domain. In particular it will be interesting to see how many crop circle clusters are found as the writings of Cappron and Moore, as well as the accounts recorded in Terry Wilson's Secret History of Crop Circles indicate that crop circle clusters were historically fairly common.
Rings.

Historic accounts indicate that simple ring patterns were relatively more common in the earlier part of the 20th century. The most significant of these accounts is the description published in 1934 in the archeaological journal Sussex Notes and Queries by Dr. Cecil Curwen M.D. F.S.A.

Dr Curwen's article not only contains a good description and diagram but the first photograph of a crop circle (see below).

A survey of the Google Eartrh 1945 overlay finds quite a few ring type circles in crops.
Barnett

This ring type crop circle is on a sloping hillside, which is important to note because some ring shapes that show up on Google Earth are actually rings used for training horse or possibly dogs. Rings caused by such activities can usually be recognised by the presence of a track or path leading to the ring. Also these training rings are inevitably on flat ground not a hillside or slope as is the case with this ring.

Because of the Google Earth 'elevation tool' which shows height above sea level it is very easy to determine a sloping field from a flat field by moving the cursor.
Bibury
This crop circle is clearly in a field of grain and there is the suggestion of a pattern within the perimeters of the ring

This image of 1945 Chartridge shows a ring type crop circle, again the crop circle is on a slope
This crop circle is near the town of Cotton
This 1945 crop circle is near the village of Derry Downs.

I do love it when I find a crop circle in a field of grain that is in the process of being harvested as it places the entire image in a context.

To my eye this field is probably of wheat half of which has been headed but not mown so the stalks are still standing but the heads of wheat have gone. The tractor has not yet reached the circle but its activity can be seen not many meters north of the crop circle
Fairlop Waters is to the north and east of London. I can not guess what kind of crop this circle is in but the field above it has been recently harvested
This crop circle from Great Bookham (above), is a classic crop circle, even showing a suggestion of that little vertical twisted tuff in the center of the circle that has been photographed so many times in modern crop circles. From the shadow on the hedge the photograph appears to have been taken about 11.30 am and the field of grain is not mature.
Here is a crop circle that is not a  circle but which should appeal to all the conspiracy theorists who think that the Freemasons are behind everything.
This 'crop triangle' even has the suggestion of the Eye of Horus.
Triangles in crops have been noted and even photographed in modern times. It is also interesting to note the pattern of small circles (approx. 2 to 3 meters diameter) arranged around the triangle.

It appears that this crop triangle is in a field of oats. It does not have any tracks leading to or from it and does not re-occur in any future Google images.
The weird thing about the large ring in this photo is that it is on the top of a little hill where, quite a few years later, an astronomical observatory was built.
Do you find that interesting? Maybe the ring is just the foundations for the observatory being laid or maybe there is something special about that hill. Suggestions gratefully accepted
Click here to learn more about the 1945 crop circle project
2014 Updates
Thanks to Arek from Poland who has taken up the challenge of searching the Google Earth 1945 historic overlays and then the generousity of sharing his finding, which are significant. Below are two crop formations that Arek found. Of great interest is the below triangle, a few miles east of Honington, which if one looks closely contains three small triangles, supporting the triangle formation above. Log onto Google Earth and check it out on high resolution.


Another 1945 crop circle found by Arek, this one near Fifield. There has been some discussion as to whether it is a flaw on the film however I contend that effect of the tractor harvest lines indicates an impression in the crop. It is clear that the line of the circle is both dimmed and spread by the tractor. If the circle were a flaw on the film then the line that crosses the harvest lines whould be more distinct and relatively darker however the opposite is true. There are also obvious similarites with the 1932 Stoughton Down crop circles (original photo shown below).


This is the original Stoughton Down photograph taken in 1932 from the elevation of nearby Bow Hill. One of a cluster of three crop circles in a field. As you see it is similar in many ways to the Fiefield crop circle found by Arek in the 1945 photo
A very early crop circle image from Lenham Heath in Kent. This early crop circle is from the 1940 Google Earth Kent overlay, just released by Google Earth in March 2014. My Polish collegue Arek Miazga has dedicated a lot of time to search the Google Earth historic overlay and kindly is sharing his findings with all of us. If more people started using Google Earth to search for crop circles in areas outside the usual sighting areas I am sure some important new crop circle facts would be uncovered.