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Crop circles are probably Mother Nature’s greatest joke, in that they are completely natural and easily explained. The 1% of cases claiming to present an exception to this rule may be dismissed—from a scientific perspective, at least—as somewhat naive and misinformed.
Previous research conducted on crop circles over the years has been marred by a number of errors. Specifically, a lot of these studies have proven to be very subjective and have thus resulted in unprofessional judgements. Such errors, of course, have rarely been found in the work of true professionals; they can largely be attributed to the amateur approaches taken by self-proclaimed “experts”.
A popular theory is that crop circles are man-made hoaxes, whilst others have perceived them as proof of extraterrestrial lifeforms that are trying to communicate with humankind. However, recent research—corroborated by agriculturalists, meteorologists, archaeologists and even photographers—has lent further weight to the existing idea that crop circles arise as the result of ball lightning: luminous, spherical objects that strike the earth during a thunderstorm, lasting longer than the average split-second lightning bolt. Patterns then appear a few days or weeks later in crops of wheat, barley, rye, maize or rapeseed, due to biological processes weakening the plant tissue after electrical damage and causing them to flatten gradually.
The delayed appearance of crop circles is very similar to the chemical development of photographic and cinematographic film. As the traditional photographer well knows, the image captured on the negative and developed in a dark-room environment takes a good few minutes to appear as the mixture of chemicals work to bring it out on the photographic paper. Aerial archaeologists, such as Leo Deuel, have in turn applied this metaphor to the crop circle debate: “vegetation acts in somewhat the manner of a chemical developer of exposed photographic plates: it throws up latent pictures.” (See Flights into Yesterday: The Story of Aerial Archaeology, St Martin’s Press, 1969, p. 38)
There is much evidence to support the argument presented above. For example, there is a tree near an airport in England that was found standing in the very centre of a crop formation, bearing the observable scars of a lightning strike. Furthermore, the dead insects, birds and other animals, not to mention the magnetic anomalies, found in the surrounding area can only be accounted for as after-effects of this meteorological phenomenon.
The research compiled by Deuel and his fellow aerial archaeologists is habitually overlooked by self-professed “researchers”, “investigators” and “specialists” on the curious subject of crop circles. However, there is a very interesting relationship between the locations where crops circles have been spotted and the sites identified by these archaeologists as concealing historical remains. That is to say, cropmarks—the means through which subterranean archaeological features become visible from the air—may serve to further our understanding of the role of lightning in the creation of nearby crop circles.
In his youth, O. G. S. Crawford—a pioneer of aerial photography who succeeded in deepening archaeological knowledge of the British landscape—made sketches of the cropmarks caused by barrows, burial mounds, vaults, crypts, tombs, henges, earthworks, ditches and hedges scattered across Hampshire. His studies subsequently prompted other aerial archaeologists to conduct investigations across the whole of Wessex—Berkshire, Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. It was discovered that many of the “cropmarked” sites yielding considerable historical finds were often located in close proximity to a high concentration of crop circles which later appeared.
What (speculative) significance can we ascribe to this? It may be that the lightning discharged during a thunderstorm acts as an intensifier and highlights existing cropmarks which had previously been invisible to the naked eye. Perhaps because some of the archaeological remains were buried further beneath the ground than those that created perceptible cropmarks, the neighbouring crop circles could only appear once an electrical current had damaged the biological structure of the plants above them.
Of course, all these findings cumulatively beg the question: If crop circles are caused by lightening strikes, then why aren’t more cereal crops affected every time there is a thunderstorm? One argument is that regular and symmetrical structures are only caused by extremely strong discharges (currents of more than 500,000 amperes), which create circular electromagnetic fields. Another possibility is that such strong currents are not always dissipated over the field’s surface—producing irregular shapes in the damaged cereals—and instead penetrate deep underground.
The correlation between crop circles and lightning strikes is still being investigated exhaustively, so it could well be a while before we know more with any certainty. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is nothing paranormal or premeditated about these patterns which periodically adorn arable farmland across the world.