It started with a picture.
In April 2007, Monique Klinkenbergh stumbled across the image that would upend her life. Its composition—perfectly executed rings of triangles and diamonds in concentric circles riven into a cornfield—evoked a profound visceral response.
The former magazine editor was struck by the design, the integrity of the mathematics between the shapes. “I have a background in fine art and also have this rational mind thinking, ‘How is this possible?’ It was a crop circle in the middle of the night in a field, which is not a straight canvas,” she says. “It was 13-fold geometry, very difficult to construct on paper. Try to divide a cake into 13 perfect pieces. You can’t.”
She knew then she’d have to explore the phenomena that produced designs with such congruity. “I thought, OK. This was it. It was my destiny,” Klinkenbergh recalls. With that, she went to Wiltshire, England, the epicenter of crop circles. There, Klinkenbergh says, she instantly felt “at home.”
Croppies and Hoaxers
It’s probably no coincidence that Wiltshire also houses Stonehenge and the more extensive Avebury Stone Circle, completing that World Heritage site. In fact the area houses several other “henges,” or prehistoric circular monuments of stone or wood, which are believed to be associated with solstice rituals. In this framework, it makes sense that this rural English county would become the locus for crop circle enthusiasts, or “croppies.”
The sudden overnight appearance and precision of their designs launch a legion of theories about the circles’ creation. Some camps believe they are made by UFOs or formed when spaceships land, or assume they are the handiwork of inexplicable forces. Others passionately insist the designs are all manmade. True believers in the otherworldly camp dismiss the latter as “hoaxers.”
Of course, many adhere to the middle ground, believing that a lot remains unknown, and whatever forces create the phenomena are mystical. But tensions amongst the spectrum of people are intense, and at times, fierce.
No matter the origins, the designs are made by flattening crops, which are mostly cereals and grains. Reports of the circular designs date back hundreds of years in Europe, but the recent wave of tourism to Wiltshire started in the 1970s and has taken hold.
The area is still full of working farms, and the tourism can disrupt the farmers’ privacy and cause a loss of income. Thousands of croppies visit each summer, not realizing that not all farmers allow them access. “In the past, it was a Wild West situation in Wiltshire. Thousands of people entering without permission, trampling the crops, and upsetting farmers,” Klinkenbergh explains.
It was during this spike in tourism that documentary filmmaker Chris Carter, like Klinkenbergh, saw a photograph of a circle. “I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Carter says. “The detail and patterns were phenomenal.”