From the Fortean Winds perspective, the first reliable report of a crop circle comes from Volume 22 of Nature – a Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science in 1880. A gentleman by the name of John Rand Capron wrote “The storms about this part of Surrey have been lately local and violent, and the effects produced in some instances curious. Visiting a neighbour’s farm on Wednesday evening (21st), we found a field of standing wheat considerably knocked about, not as an entirety, but in patches forming, as viewed from a distance, circular spots they all presented much the same character, viz, a few standing stalks as a centre, some prostrate stalks with their heads arranged pretty evenly in a direction forming a circle round the centre, and outside there a circular wall of stalks which had not suffered. I could not trace locally any circumstances accounting for the peculiar forms of the patches in the field, nor indicating whether it was wind or rain, or both combined, which had caused them, beyond the general evidence everywhere of heavy rainfall. They were suggestive to me of some cyclonic wind action, and may perhaps have been noticed elsewhere by some of your readers.. “
While our research methods would indicate this is the first credible report of crop circles, there are certainly many more perspectives. Ancient Alien theorists and others believe this phenomenon dates back tens of thousands of years. They’ve postulated crop circles are used for everything from communication to time travel. While these theories are interesting and compelling, we find little scientific and measurable evidence to directly support them.
Seminal Ancient Alien Theorist Erich Von Daniken points to 19th century tales of faerie rings as evidence of the crop circle phenomenon prior to the 1880 article. However, faerie rings or fairy circles are caused by fungus. It’s a naturally occurring ring of mushrooms which occurs in open grassy fields. It was misidentified and branded a “witches circle” in 19th Century Europe and likely before. The myth was that witches wore down the fields dancing in rituals. Later, this became aliens.
When it comes to crop circles as complex as those found in the above photograph, one can see where the alien hypothesis comes in. The designs are remarkably intricate and the method of creating the crop circle is not always apparent. Hoaxsters have attempted to take credit for well…all of them. Yet, it should be noted that these two gents could not have been quite as prolific or as detailed (with the method demonstrated) to have created all of the crop circles appearing in the Wiltshire area.
An intriguing minority of crop circles remain unexplained in their origin. A British researcher named Colin Andrews working for Laurance Rockefeller estimates 80% of crop circles are hoaxes. He suspects the other 20% may have something to do with changes to earth’s magnetic field. His research is ongoing and involves instrumentation. So, we’ll look forward to his results. Clearly, if we accept the 1880 report of a crop circle as evidence of some of the modern phenomenon, there is more to it than a couple of drunks with boards on their feet. While we wait for more data, those 20% of unexplained crop circles remain ripe for theory.
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