The crop circles of 2020 have begun… which means it’s a good time to look back at the previous season of 2019. Although not huge in number, the crop circles of 2019 saw a mysterious activation across France, while intriguing and ingenious designs also continued in the traditional English heartlands and beyond…
Beyond the Public Gaze
Each year they come, each year they are argued over, and each year they inspire devotion, controversy and deep debate – and yet crop circles are largely ignored by a world which no longer acknowledges esoteric distractions. An enduring part of the landscape, especially in England for reasons still unresolved, they continue to flourish in the face of sometimes active opposition or simple indifference.
In a world where open online censorship – stepped up enormously in 2019 and then accelerated further during the 2020 pandemic – is now attempting to see off a number of crucial ‘unorthodox’ subjects in the hope of hiding them from future generations, the decades-long approach to weakening people’s interest in crop circles can perhaps be seen as a test run for today’s clampdowns. When savage debunking failed to dissuade enquiring minds, Plan B was the simple removal of the phenomenon from the public gaze; many people are convinced that it died out years ago. They can be astonished to learn that quite the opposite is true.
But then would-be major stories are omitted from the mainstream media on a daily basis, for all the mass-communication of our times, so we shouldn’t be surprised that knowledge of a mystery which, if ever shown to be beyond the hands of human artists in even a few cases (as many believe it has been) would rock the everyday world, has also been removed. Thankfully, the extraordinary shapes which keep manifesting in the canvas of the very food we eat are still, for now, being recorded for posterity by those who see beyond the narrow prejudices of the times.
Early UK Entries
This year would see a geographical twist in global circular activity, as we shall see, but England remains the main area of focus. Aside from a complex stylised owl-like design embossed into snow on 2 February near the old circle site of Roundway, Wiltshire (one of two elaborate emblems in icy mediums this spring, the other being a remarkable circular circuit board-like array imprinted into ice at Qinghai Lake in China on 12 April), English events in their usual form lay dormant until 22 May. This first arrival near the old UFO-flap town of Warminster, Wiltshire, was a double-ringed circle with two extra circles superimposed upon it [pictured], simple, crisp and pleasing. Cirencester, Gloucestershire then delivered two modest but fluffily-laid patterns on 25 May; a crescent of small circles next to what at first glance resembled some kind of diamond ring.
May produced two more entries, the first in the form of a simple if slightly skewed six-pointed flower within a ring at Chilton Candover, Hampshire on 26 May, and the second a complex triangle of paths and circles at an oddly undisclosed location (more on this trend below) the day after. Hampshire, an on-and-off hotspot for the phenomenon over the years, would be particularly busy in the next few weeks.
The first real eye-catcher appeared at Littleton, Hampshire on 3 June. A complex three-fold array of intersecting rings, the pattern was clear and attractive. This crispness was repeated at Owslebury, Hampshire on 11 June, in an eight-fold mandala of curved saw-teeth (named the ‘water wheel’ by some) contained within a large fine ring. The mounded heads of feathery barley gave a nicely textured look when seen from above.
The formation which arrived at Netherne-on-the-Hill in Surrey on the midsummer solstice of 21 June returned to an old recurring theme: insect symbolism. As far back as 1991 insectoid antennas were being appended to pictograms, and this would develop in time into fully-fledged representations of various insect species. This latest one, unusual in its design, was very clearly an ant seen as if emerging from a hole. The ringed circle of the hole was distinguished by areas of criss-crossed ‘basket-weave’ lay, while the ant itself was created with thin standing paths. This region had been visited by a lifeform before – a spectacular ET face in 2016 – but this was the first entomological creature. An eco-message perhaps, in a summer where ‘Extinction Rebellion’ protests made their presence felt across the nation? The logo of that very group would eventually appear in a field at Malmesbury, Wiltshire, on 26 July, commissioned as a man-made artwork for the nearby WOMAD festival. [This was one of two known commissions this summer, the other, a clumsy floral design, being made for a Chinese TV station at Woodborough Hill, near Pewsey, Wiltshire on 14 July.]
Bishops Sutton, Hampshire saw a simple ringed circle motif on 29 June, which had something in common with the earlier Warminster design, with two small circles superimposed onto the ring, ending a quiet June for the UK even as events were taking off in France (below).
The precise and striking motif which arrived near Danebury Hillfort in Wiltshire on 1 July [pictured] returned to another known theme: four segmented pentagrams seen in perspective as if stretched around a sphere, contained within a fine double-ringed circle. The local newspaper, the Andover Advertiser, featured a rare piece of positive (indeed any) cerealogical publicity concerning this formation, reporting on the ‘Core Group Initiative’ team which has helped build useful bridges between farmers and visitors in the last few years by arranging regular public access to at least some crop circles in the face of an often hostile agricultural community. One more research boon this summer was the establishment of a permanent home for the Crop Circle Exhibition and Information Centre at Honeystreet Mill café, near Alton Barnes in Wiltshire – an area of so many formations over the years – offering a good central gathering place for seekers.
On 3 July, another ancient Wiltshire hillfort, Yarnbury Castle, near Steeple Langford, was gifted a huge and unusual ring with extending paths and small circles from one half of it, with a central shaft in a similar style. Nearby lay a separate small circle with a ‘ribbed’ lay and a tiny standing circle within it. A newer mound was then visited on 8 July, when the local monument atop Farley Mount, near Winchester, Hampshire gained a companion in the form of a complex mosaic of fragmented pieces around a four-fold theme, like ripples in a pond. The next arrival, on 16 July at Tichborne, Hampshire, took the fragmentation theme further, but in a more ordered fashion, as thin and precise triangles appeared to form three sides of a cube within a ringed circle, making for one of the most effective designs of the season.
20 July hosted a crisp 12-pointed wheel of slanted shards [pictured], like an abstract sun symbol, not far from the famous white horse carving at Westbury, Wiltshire, another old site of so many crop glyphs. This was followed by an even more eye-catching design with a feeling of ancient solar symbolism to it, at Pepperbox Hill, West Grimstead, Wiltshire on 23 July. Imprinted as triple paths rather than swathes of laid crop, six wavy arms leading outwards from a central circle were ingenious yet deceptively simple, making for another favourite of the season. Its slight resemblance to the famous ‘ribbons’ formation near Stonehenge in 2002 did not go unnoticed. A mystery lay behind this pattern, however, for it turned out than an earlier five-armed, but otherwise almost identical, version had in fact appeared on 10 July at an area unannounced to the public, which only fully came to light with the open reporting of its sequel. 6 July had also seen a haloed ET-face design going unreported by some online platforms, while those that did feature it revealed no whereabouts. Hidden formations and undisclosed locations, presumably agreed to by circle-reporting websites as a way of placating concerned farmers (?), is becoming controversial to those who believe in freedom of information, and presents uncomfortable dilemmas in an age of already creeping censorship. Could this not in time lead to no crop formations being reported at the time of their appearance, removing them even further from the public gaze..?
The mandala which occurred at Barton Stacey, Hampshire on 28 July was a return to the ‘fragments’ style, this time comprising a triangle of unusual ‘play-shape’ blocks set (visually, if seen as three-dimensional layers) against another triangle in turn superimposed on a hexagon. If unruly in execution, its ambition was impressive. By contrast, another motif which appeared the same day, back at Warminster, near the ancient landmark of Cley Hill (another old circle haunt), was a masterpiece of precision [pictured]. With a wide ring distinguished by a basket-weave finish, the three diminishing circles and crescent within it were brilliantly created, two with haystack twists at their centres. The lay of the largest circle was particularly appealing, sporting the long-established but winning technique of including a band of radially-laid crop to break up the basic swirl, creating an alluring texture.
The oft spoken-of ‘Grand finales’ to a circle season are largely a myth; people latch onto the last pattern they were impressed by and ignore the ones that sometimes tail off in the days before final harvest. However, most of 2019’s closing UK formations were notable for their quality.
On 4 August, Tufton, Hampshire saw the arrival of a clever six-fold mandala with four inner bands of ever-contracting curved triangles. On 11 August, back at Preston Candover, Hampshire, an apparent comprehensive lesson in geometry incorporated circles, a square, and a triangle, much of it laid in basket-weave. Almost logo-like, the thin standing paths making up some of the pattern, and the flattened corners of the otherwise standing triangle at the centre, made it especially intriguing. Another triangle, or perhaps more accurately an arrowhead with curved edges, its outline dotted with small circles, then appeared at Uffington, Oxfordshire, on 18 August, home to a much older famous white horse carving (although some believe it represents a dragon). The penultimate formation of the summer, at Etchilhampton, Wiltshire on 20 August [pictured] was an attractive and precisely laid mandala of offset nested circles within an outer rim of ‘Mayan’-type rectangular glyphs.
The last English event at the time of writing, if not an unforgettable grand finale, was still a decent formation to end a not unimpressive season. An emblem of three standing crescents interspersed with small circles and straight paths, its outer ring again exhibited the basket-weave effect. So closed one more summer of graphic images in the fields of southern England, stretching established genres into fresh territory. 2019 was quieter than some years, true, but plainly this journey isn’t over yet.
Vive la France
For all the inevitable focus on England, the circle phenomenon has long had a wider reach. In recent years global activity has fallen somewhat, while the UK has remained reasonably steady, but for a short while in 2019 it looked as if another country altogether might take the numbers crown. France has hosted crop formations before, but never been a major hotspot, for all its ancient sacred sites such as Carnac, and huge rolling fields; some of the very qualities some believe make the traditional heartlands such a recurring target. This year, however, the French fields saw a sudden spate of confident designs.
The first of the season’s rush began on 1 June at Moisselles, Val-d’Oise with a stunning pictogram comprised of a line of crescents and circles of many different sizes [pictured]. Each circle had a small standing centre, and the pattern seemed to compliment a crucifix of planted trees near the adjacent Catholic church. The next development, on 13 June, although much further east, at Saint-Hyppolyte, Haut-Rhin, held similarities to its predecessor, but with thinner rings and semi-circles. A busy and very long formation at around 200 metres total (making it the largest of this year’s entries), in truth it lay in two separate components, with one disconnected third lying in a different field.
14 June saw two more completely different areas being visited. One, at Giéville, Manche, in Normandy, was smaller, but again notable, with a line of circles and crescents and two further trailing arms of circles. The same day (although hints suggest it had been there a while) saw the reporting of a slightly wobbly motif of rings, circles and semi-circles at Menetou-Salon, Centre-Val de Loire.
Continuing the notable geographical scattering, an elaborate, if small and again rather imprecise, hexagon made up of many ‘flower of life’ petals was discovered on 17 June back in the east at Saint-Jean-de-Bassel, Moselle. Inspired by their country’s new graphical outbursts, a team of college students created their own pictogram the next day at Blaesheim, Bas Rhin, near Strasbourg.
The six-armed snowflake design near Tours at Parçay-Meslay, Indre-et-Loire on 26 June restored the quality, with a complexity of different-size circles making up the arms, and a small cloverleaf emblem at the centre. Two days later, the phenomenon leapt to Lidon, near Chauvigny, Vienne, this time featuring a petroglyph-like cluster of circles, paths and rings, with two nearby smaller rings crossed by oddly-angled straight paths. 29 June saw the circle tour of France reach yet another area, at Saulx-Marchais, Yvelines, this time exhibiting a very unusual S-shaped swathe anchored around a straight spine of rings and semi-circles. The following day it moved to the Pas-de-Calais region, with another line of circles and crescents, with its own central S-shape, near the imposing mining slag heaps of the Twin Terrils near Houdain/Hallicourt [pictured], and another at Nielles-lés-Ardres, more like the first of this year’s French pictograms but with additional stranger shapes, including a carrot-like appendage.
The next month saw no immediate let-up in activity, with Pouilloux, Saône-et-Loire visited on 3 July by a modest-size but more compact design in the usual range, while on the same day at Louans, Indre-et-Loire, another line of circles featured a little sawblade-motif in the middle. Sundhoffen, Haut-Rhin, added its own thematic variation on 7 July, this time including an unusual oval ‘eye’ at one end. Perhaps the most unique design to visit France was the one at Auchy-les-Mines, Pas-de-Calais on 16 July [pictured], exhibiting a diamond-shaped centre surrounded by four curved ‘wings’ or sails, each divided by lay sweeping into a central spine, making for a beautiful effect. The same day saw a play on classic yin-yang symbolism at Treuzy-Levelay, Seine-et-Marne, with trailing arms of circles instead of an enclosed ring, making for a final spiritual statement, perhaps, to close off what was an extraordinary year for a country which has never before been touched by the circle mystery to this degree.
Why now? Was the new focus here a wry statement about Britain’s chaotic Brexit process and the potential falling apart of the European project (although, in that case, why none in Germany this year)? Has there been some geophysical shift or a change in ‘earth energies’? Or is it just a group consciousness phenomenon to let off steam in a country which had been rocked by the gilet-jaune (yellow jackets) political protests earlier in the year? The wide geographical distribution was certainly different to England, which tends to favour specific areas. Whatever the answer, it was interesting to see France’s researchers and media go through in a single summer the same stages of fascination, intrigue, arguments, denial and scepticism that the UK took years to traverse. It was also notable that some of the basic facts about crop circles used by local reporters were plainly taken from Wikipedia, which is notoriously unreliable on the subject, showing once again that human knowledge is too often based not on reliable views with historical depth, but on opinionated hearsay stamped on new generations.
Around the World
Of the other countries to receive cerealogical artworks in 2019, Switzerland saw four formations; two were filmed in the early summer from too great a height to reveal the detail, but one at Zollikofen showed a mandala-like motif with a floral centre, and another at Neuenegg comprised a thick ring with irregular standing shapes within it. A complex six-fold flower like a rose window drew the eye at Büren an der Aare, Bern, on 1 July [see diagram], while a small but pretty three-fold cloverleaf-like design was found at Lüsslingen, Thun, on 23 June.
Italy received three formations; the first two, both on 25 May, were comprised of a six-fold flower of thin paths at Osimo, Ancona, and, a little further away at Padiglione, a bizarre winged dumbbell, rather awkwardly-proportioned. The third, at Poirino, Piemonte, on 30 June was in a different league, reminiscent of a number of patterns which have appeared here over the years (sometimes openly declared as being the work of the artist Francesco Grassi, although some have challenged this), being a large and elaborate seven-fold flower. The Netherlands also delivered three formations, less than in recent years, all small and relatively simple in the local ‘naïve’ style, fairly or unfairly now generally dismissed by researchers.
Unlike the USA, which seems right now to have shut down its circular activity, Russia produced two formations, one a neat pictogram of thin paths and circles at Fastovetskaya, Krasnodar on 19 June, and the second a double ‘scroll’ glyph with a separate small circle a little further away at Sokolovskoe, Krandor on 23 June. Poland, meanwhile, produced a single well-laid play on the yin-yang style again, with a satellite circle, at Wolka Orchowska, Wielkopolska on 29 June, and the Czech Republic offered a set of petroglyph-like symbols at an unknown location on 5 July [pictured].
With England’s 25 formations this year, it is clear that the traditional centre retains its prominence, but with France’s 15 following close behind, it will be curious to see whether the burst of ingenuity there will grow to create a whole new regular hub or mysteriously fade away again. The rest of the world, with its 14 rare appearances, remains sporadic but bubbles along in a few places.
Reaching definitive conclusions about this enigmatic and determined phenomenon is forever elusive; it is always somehow just out of reach, impossible to pin down, and yet all the more alluring and intriguing for it. What is for certain is that these strange and beautiful shapes continue to inspire, frustrate, and generate thoughtful deliberations in times when people are being actively discouraged from questioning and thinking outside of the box – this alone therefore seems like a reasonable justification for their continued existence and long may they live.
Originally written for Nexus Magazine. All UK photographs are courtesy of Crop Circle Connector/Nick Bull – photos, articles and reports on the whole 2019 season can be found there. French photos (in order of appearance) by Aéroclub Les Ailerons d’Enghien Moisselles, Umberto Molinaro and J-B Fly Drone. Thanks to Bertold Zugelder for the diagrams taken from www.cropcirclecenter.com, an excellent online archive.