An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural
Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies
Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z
crop circles (In the U.K., often called “corn circles,” since in that area of the world, corn refers to any grain crop, while what Americans know as corn is known there as “maize.”)
In 1979, mysterious diagrams began to be noticed in the U.K., patterns formed by flattening out grain crops. Immediately, UFO fans declared that space aliens were communicating with Earth by this means, and as years went by, the shapes evolved from simple circles into Mandelbrot figures and complicated networks, as if extraterrestrial kids were competing with one another in an intergalactic drawing contest. The concept is not far from the actuality.
This is a schoolboy stunt that, coincidentally, begins to be noticed annually immediately after school lets out in the U.K., though few have made any connection between the two matters. Farmers eventually notice the patterns, sometimes prompted by the media. A new group of paranormalists known as “cereologists” (seriously!) are convinced that these are extraterrestrial messages of some sort and of great import to humankind. That space people would choose to sketch figures in farm crops seems not at all incongruous to the believers.
When, in 1992, two retired gentlemen in England (“Doug and Dave”) admitted that they had started the prank and it had been picked up by the schoolchildren in the area and eventually all over the country, the believers were quick to point out that those circles were not identical to the “real” circles in every respect. However, a newspaper in the U.K. asked these two hoaxers secretly to create a typical pattern, then called in the “experts,” who confidently declared it to be the genuine article. So much for experts.
In Hungary, too, there was great excitement in June 1992 when a helicopter pilot passing over a farming area near the town of Székesfehérvár, about forty miles west of Budapest, reported sighting below him a “crop circle” of rather substantial dimensions. The media went crazy about it, celebrating the fact that, at last, the extraterrestrials had recognized their country by conferring on them this singular honor.
There was no lack of eyewitnesses who claimed they'd seen little green folks in that field and UFOs hovering overhead. They fought to get in front of the TV cameras that were focused on vast crowds from all over Europe, milling about on the grounds of the Aranybulla collective farm where this 120-foot-diameter wonder was to be viewed. A number of “experts” came in and measured levels of known and unknown radiations that they said were loose in the area, and warned of the deadly nature of the phenomenon.
UFOlogist Károly Hargitai and “time-scientist” György Kisfaludy solemnly declared the circle to have been made by extraterrestrials and impossible of fabrication by humans. Kisfaludy averred that by looking at the crop circle “in six dimensions,” he had been able to solve the coded message it conveyed, a message available only to a savant such as himself.
In September, on one of the popular but low-level TV talk shows on Channel 1, Budapest, both Hargitai and Kisfaludy appeared before the nation to solemnly restate and verify their pseudoscientific opinions on the matter. Then, to their dismay, the host of the show, Sándor Friderikusz, introduced two seventeen-year-old students who produced photographic and video proof that they themselves had made the crop circle, using very simple methods. The effect of this disclosure was rather strong, and the expressions on the faces of the “experts,” who were not prepared for such a confrontation, left the studio audience as well as the TV audience amused.
The two hoaxers were Róbert Dallos and Gábor Takács. They were high school students who had read about crop circles in the newspapers and decided to make their very own. As students of agriculture, they knew that wet grass can be bent without breaking it, and they had noted heavy rains just before the night of June 8, when they created the figure. That was two weeks before the helicopter pilot discovered it.
The two youngsters had waited until a local drive-in movie closed down, then went about their business of hoaxing. They also were wise enough to take photographic records of the area, before and after, in the correct scientific tradition.
Following the TV program, the inevitable alibis were produced by the die-hard believers. The one who had solved the coded message from the stars declared that he had surveyed the area around Székesfehérvár just previous to the discovery of the artifact and had found no trace of the circle at that time. That seems quite strange, since the gentleman offered no reason why he chose to look at that specific site in advance of the wonder that the UFOs were about to create there.
The collective farm, Aranybulla, chose not to be amused by all this. A lawsuit was brought against the boys demanding compensation for the widespread damage done to the crops as a result of the crowds who moved in, camping overnight in some cases. The court's decision was that the boys were responsible only for the circle area itself and that the farm's lawyers should pursue the media who had promoted the hoax as a genuine phenomenon.
The boys were defended free by their admirers in the skeptical community and were not required to pay the legal penalty for their very clever and appropriate hoax in the name of science. Early in 1993, they were awarded a prize given each year in Hungary for the best essay or project produced by a young person, dealing with the supernatural, paranormal, or occult. It was presented to them by Gyula Bencze, a physicist with the Central Research Institute for Physics in Budapest. Dr. Bencze is a leading figure in the Hungarian skeptics movement.
In 1993, four skeptics——some of whom had already created several very convincing crop circles in the U.K.——in the company of investigator Ian Rowland, used planks and ropes to make two excellent figures near Winchester, where “authentic” figures had been found in the past. There was an almost-full moon while they worked, and several times during their early-morning task, they were illuminated by the headlights of oncoming automobiles, but no one stopped to investigate. They used similar methods to those used by “Doug and Dave” and had no problem at all getting away with the prank. They discovered that simply walking through the crop with a certain amount of care does not leave any traces, thus demolishing another claim of the cereologists. One of their figures was so convincing that an entrepreneur put up a sign and charged visitors a fee to view the phenomenon.
Paul Vigay, a popular U.K. writer on the subject of crop circles, ran diagrams of these productions in his booklet Crop Circle Surveys of 1993 and featured one of them on the cover. He also discovered marvelous ways of folding one of the two figures into a three-dimensional shape, as if to imply that the UFO people had created it just for that purpose. This would appear to be another example of discovering meaning where there is none.
The fact that these figures are so easily made and have deceived the experts reduces the matter of the crop circles to whether or not one chooses to believe in a capricious and rather juvenile action performed by a highly advanced extraterrestrial civilization, or what amounts to little more than an involved schoolboy prank carried out by quite ordinary folks.
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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.
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