Wheat Graffiti, Wired, Aug 2002

Wheat Graffiti

A roundup of the top of the crops

By Daniel Pinchbeck

THEY SHOW UP EVERY SUMMER: spirals and interlocking rings, alchemical and shamanic symbols, massive mandalas and Mandelbrot sets, all cut into swaths of land — some as large as two football fields set side by side. These patterns, made from swirled wheat and flattened rapeseed, first appeared in the fields of southern England 30 years ago. Their mysterious origin caused a media frenzy until 1991, when two local farmers claimed responsibility for a few of the early formations. The press, satisfied that the whole thing was a hoax, decamped. But crop circles never went away. From the Netherlands to Japan to the farmlands of Canada and the Midwest, hundreds of new glyphs materialize every year — and they’re growing in both size and complexity.

The spectacle has inspired a fresh crop of media attention. Signs, by Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan, debuts August 2 starring Mel Gibson as a Pennsylvania farmer who discovers supernatural communications in his cornfields. Also coming in August is Crop Circles: Quest for Truth, a documentary by Emmy award-winning filmmaker William Gazecki. The film focuses on the robust New Age subculture of “croppies.” In England, as many as 10,000 believers spend their summers tromping across the verdant hills of Wiltshire and Glastonbury prospecting for new formations. They include not only the expected druids, dowsers, and Deadheads but also more levelheaded types — engineers, astronomers, laser scientists, and biophysicists.

These croppies find a kind of scientific beauty and mystery in the phenomenon. Gerald Hawkins, former chair of the astronomy department at Boston University, thinks the artistry of the circles is based on mathematics. He has found hidden geometrical forms – pentagrams, hexagons, and other shapes — underlying the figures he’s analyzed. Then there’s Colin Andrews, an electrical engineer with a grant from billionaire UFOlogist Laurance Rockefeller, who claims to have found a change in Earth’s magnetic field where the glyphs appear. Noting the recent increase in crop circles, Andrews says, “You begin to get the distinct impression that there is some kind of program running here.” Andrews, when pressed, tells of dozens of strange events that have befallen him during his 18-year-long obsession: stopped clocks, inexplicable power surges, ruined film. But the wildest stories come from the cult croppie philosopher Michael Glickman, a former architect who has been chasing circles since the 1980s. “The circlemakers are using shape and number and form to access parts of our being that have become culturally deactivated,” he says. Glickman’s theory is that the signs point to some type of dimensional shift due to arrive in December 2012: “Part of the program is reactivation — that is separate from whatever hard information they might be bringing.”

Glickman’s “hard information” refers to a moment at the end of last summer’s growing season when crop circles turned away from the abstract. On August 14, an enigmatic human face, expertly executed in halftones, turned up next to a huge radio transmitter in Chilbolton, England. A few days later, a glyph appeared that many croppies believe to be an alien response to a SETI radio transmission sent into space almost 30 years ago. Formed out of expertly twisted wheat, the pattern shows a strand of DNA made with silicon instead of phosphorous, a transmission device of unknown design, an alternate solar system, and an extraterrestrial with a wide head.

One thing is for sure: The formation proves beyond a doubt that the life-form responsible for it has a superevolved sense of humor. In the words of Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI Institute, it’s “good fun and a nice example of grain graffiti” — but not worth taking seriously. “If aliens wanted to communicate with us, why would they use such a low-bandwidth method?” he asks. “Why not just leave an Encyclopedia Galactica on our doorstep?” He also notes that SETI’s original signal was aimed at the star cluster M13, which means it will not reach its target for 24,972 more years. The institute, he says, “has no interest in investigating the phenomenon further.”


In 1974, an encoded radio transmission was fired into deep space — the so-called Arecibo message. Its contents included the numerals 1 through 10, the atomic numbers of elements important to human life, a depiction of the physical structure of DNA, our solar system, a human figure, and the radio dish used to send the message. Three decades later, a crop circle in an English field appeared to reply — with some interesting amendments (see below).

  • Silicon (atomic number 14) added to list of life giving elements
  • An altered strand of DNA
  • A new population value: 21.3 billion
  • An altered solar system
  • A picture of a big-headed humanoid, who stands 3 feet, 4 inches tall
  • A completely different transmitter

Original Article on Wired