The Field Guide

The Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle Making

By Rob Irving & John Lundberg

Edited Mark Pilkington.

Published by Strange Attractor


A review


"Now, in the first book of its kind - part history and part how-to guide - the secrets of the crop circle world are revealed, by the people behind the modern era's most astounding artform."   From Field Guide advertisement.


"The classic archetype of jesters and fools were an antidote to this 'normalising' process; their comedic interventions throwing doubt upon certainty. As personifications of the random, of chaos, they are dangerous; their threat has to be neutralised. Thus, they wear funny hats, they are not 'us' - we laugh at their folly, not ours. Satirists, parodists and artists are feared for the opposite reason; they mimic our prejudices, inviting us to recognise our own folly."  From Circlemakers website.


The authors of this work, Rob Irving and John Lundberg, are two of the main people behind the Circlemakers organisation. (


According to the book, the contemporary crop circle phenomenon all started with the legendary “Doug and Dave”, two amateur enthusiasts who one day in 1976 had the amusing idea of making a ‘mystery circle’ in a field just to see what the media reaction would be, in the context of the UFO reports and rumours which were rife at the time.   This duo made a number of simple circles, then a few more interesting ones. The circles attracted considerable media attention.  Inspired by this, the Circlemakers experimented with their own circles, and developed techniques of making even more complex circles.  Their stated aim is to create anonymous works of art, shrouded in mystery and ambiguity. As written (anonymously) by a circlemaker in another place:


Basically, by creating something that is very attractive and also ambiguous in origin the artist (circlemaker) catalyzes reaction & experience that is all the more interesting because of the original ambiguity (that can only exist through anonymity). While many people value artistic experience in terms of the author, others - I am one of them - vehemently disagree and instead feel that all the value should lie in the art itself and our experience of it. It goes completely against the grain of your question as to why artists would not want to "claim the credit" but there we are, that's counterintuition for you and isn't life full of surprises.


This concept is difficult to accept at first, without some cynicism, (after all Circlemakers is now a commercial enterprise, taking paid commissions to make ‘field art’ all over the world) but with further thought and through reading the philosophy set out in the Field Guide, one can begin to understand this artistic motivation, which comes across as sincere.


The book begins with a survey of the various theories which have arisen to account for the vast number of formations which have appeared over the last 20 year or so. The authors ‘set up’ as stalking horses  the self-appointed pundits, mystics and enthusiasts who have made statements to the effect that the formations were either the product of ‘natural forces’ or of an unknown, non-human intelligence. They then proceed to demonstrate how wrong and misguided these claims have been, based on faulty ‘pseudoscience’.  Dr Terence Meaden is one target. Meaden believed that the early circles were the result of natural wind ‘vortexes’. As long as the circles were very simple, this seemed a plausible theory. In response perhaps to Meaden’s claims, the human circlemakers created more geometric formations which soon defied such explanation. Meaden struggled to enlarge and adapt his theories to accommodate these new formations, but the struggle was clearly in vain.


Astronomer Gerald S. Hawkins, former Chairman of the astronomy department at Boston University, and the highly respected author of Stonehenge Decoded, is another target.  (See Footnote 1 for details of Hawkins' work on circles).  In 1991 a formation appeared at Milk Hill consisting of a clear ‘message’ in an unknown script. Hawkins invited scholars to decipher the script. As a result, he came to the conclusion that the script was in Latin, reading Oppono Astos , or ‘I oppose acts of craft and cunning’.  Implying a clear ‘message’ to those who would seek to deceive by making ‘hoax’ circles.   The Field Guide authors claim that Hawkins theory is wrong, and they claim that the script reads ‘Meadentalksshit’. This is so original as an approach that it may well be true, indicating that they have inside knowledge from the human makers (or did it themselves)  Their demonstration of how this arises would be more convincing if it were not for a  'fudge'  between their published diagram and the actual formation. (Footnote 2).


Nevertheless, they continue in this spirit of finely argued demolition of the ‘cerealogists and pseudoscientists’ , and as the book proceeds their arguments become ever more convincing. They deal in great detail with the evidence, and delve deeply and eruditely into philosophy, symbolism, mathematics, geometry and science, with impeccable logic and consistency, and a stated respect for the scientific method. By the time I had read to page 155, the culmination of their extensive argument, I was hooked. From believing that perhaps 80% of formations were explainable as man-made, I had moved to a position of doubting that any could be non-explainable.  All was clear – the skills and techniques of the circlemakers had been developed vastly over the years, and computer art meant that they could create fabulously complex designs, They had the skills to create them, under cover of darkness, without detection, in a few hours, and without errors. They made no public claims for authorship of the circles, because such was their philosophy as artists.


I turned the page with considerable excitement to start the section titled The Beginners’ Guide: Roll your Own, page 156. Now we would learn the secrets of how such complex formations were made, and could be made. All would be revealed at last. And so they explained their methods, their planks, their tape measures, their equipment, all through to page 175.


So then Page 176: At last! - an example of a circle they had made. This was a commission by the Daily Mail, laid at Avebury Trusloe in July 1999. By pure coincidence, I had already analysed this formation on my website (Avebury Claim) , a few months earlier, and made this known on the Crop Circle Connector forum. My analysis had aroused much hostility from some of the anonymous contributors to the forum. It now became clear why.  I had raised doubts about their claim, which was to be an important part of the book. After receiving confidential details of the event, which I duly investigated, I accepted that they had in fact made this relatively simple formation. It was a neatly made formation, non-complex in its geometry and layout, and made with the farmer’s permission, without the need to avoid being found out by the farmer. Unfortunately, the diagrams as published don't correspond to the actual formation, and omit some important details of the ground lay. This was explained away as being due to 'on-site changes' from the working drawing.


So still very much persuaded by their overall claims and arguments, I moved on, anticipating ever more amazing examples of their work. Then it all began to fall to pieces.


Page 179: A picture of the stunning and complex ‘sunflower’ formation at Woodborough Hill of August 2000, with a short analysis of its geometry, based on interlocking Fibonacci spirals – a mind boggling construction. But – no claim to have made it. No description of how it could have been made. Page 180: Another stunning and complex formation, the ‘Moire’ formation at Avebury of July 2000. Again – no claim, no working method statement. Page 181: Windmill Hill July 1999  – and the same absence of claim. Page 182: East Kennet July 2000 – you guessed it.  These pages were just a presentation of these complex formations in the same breath as their simple Avebury circle.  Leaving the uninformed or uncritical reader to form the impression that these were all examples of the Circlemakers’ art.  But without actually claiming to have made them, or showing how they might have done it.  


Page 185 – a sketch implying (but not actually stating) that it is a draft layout for the vast ‘Julia Set’ at Stonehenge 1996. But with just one dimension of a single circle, no set out diagram. Again – implications, but no actual claims that could be tested for veracity. And the diagram does not correspond to the actual formation, many circles are missing or in different places. Well perhaps it was just a draft sketch for the 'real thing'.


Disappointment was already setting in. But there was worse to come. Page 187: A Case Study: BBC A Picture of Britain Formation. The Circlemakers were asked to produce a crop circle as part of the BBC series. “The original inspirations for our piece were the optical illusion paintings – known as ‘Op Art’ – created by artists such as Bridger Riley and Victor Varsley”. A fine ambition. Then follows a page of such designs, on paper. All quite complex and impressive, if only they could be made. We move on a few pages, through the description of how they made their actual BBC circle, and a charming  photo of David Dimbleby, to Page 197, a photo of the finished work.  The word that instantly came into my head was ‘dreadful’. Sharply, disturbingly angled lines where there should be smooth Fibonacci curves. No joy of harmony, of harmonic balance, no aesthetic pleasure. No subtly concealed geometric relationships. No sense of ‘figure-ground’ balance. Certainly no ‘mystery’.  Just a  basic dwarf imitation of the great Woodborough Hill sunflower. 


At this point my disappointment turned to disbelief, disbelief that the book’s finely constructed and intelligent arguments, the whole lead-up, had culminated in this dreadful effort, as a demonstration of their ‘art’. The authors talk frequently in the book about cognitive dissonance in others. Sadly, they demonstrate their own cognitive dissonance by fooling themselves into falling in love with their ‘art’ and their role as ‘artists’ so much that they fail to cast an objective, critical eye at their own efforts, and fail to realise, as they should realise, that their efforts fail dismally to live up to their own theoretical aspirations. And they go further into self deceit by ruthlessly attacking intellectual dishonesty or foolishness in others, and then dishonestly presenting tantalising examples of great formations which they (almost, but not quite) claim to be their own work. These people are smart to know what they were doing in presenting the material in the way they did, but not smart enough to look objectively at their own book and edit out the dishonestly misleading material. Or are they just being coy?


From then on, there are no further examples, claimed or implied, apart from an unidentified and uninspired ‘eye’ formation. Just padding out with a couple of chapters on UFO’s and on the exploits of the famous Doug and Dave.  I really had lost interest. I wondered why they did not show photos of their many commercial works  which are on the website. For example: A 'Question Mark' logo in Mexico,  a Danish PR ad,  Shredded Wheat advert, Olympic Rings circle in France.... A Sudoku layout - but made with tarpaulin and plastic sheeting laid on the grass.....Mitsubishi car picture.....Weetabix.... Is it because the level of skill and artistic design required to make such simplistic formations is really rather basic? Even more surprisingly, they don't include a formation from the website which is stated as being made in New Zealand made in 1998, and which is in fact quite complex. But the aesthetic effect of that is sadly confused - a collage of motifs from other circles.  Well, I will continue to wonder unless the authors can explain their logic to me.


(For a counter-argument from a circle maker, see Footnote 3)


To be fair to the authors, they do demonstrate an open-mindedness as to whether there are in fact any ‘paranormal’ events or influences in the world of crop circles. John Lundberg even describes his personal experience of bizarre inexplicable happenings. So there is a perhaps surprising generosity of spirit here towards their much-reviled class of ‘cerealogists and pseudoscientists’, which resonates with the sincerity and genuineness of the authors’ stated aims and aspirations as artists. They are probably well intentioned guys, erudite, indulging in a healthy outdoors activity, feeling good in themselves as artists, and at the same time making a little money out of their fame. But it is sad that such lofty aims and aspirations, and such ruthless demolition of intellectual dishonesty or foolishness in others, should be so precisely mirrored by their own foolishness in attempting to fool the reader into thinking that they were capable of producing great art.


But they have not shown that they are capable of producing beautiful art, nor have they shown that  they are capable of reproducing any of the great, complex and beautiful formations which they themselves use as illustrations in the book (and indeed on its covers).  . Whether these have been made by other, more skilled and artistic human circlemakers, or by another form of intelligence, is a question which still remains unresolved. I leave that debate to others – at least for the time being.  The "secrets of the crop circle world" have not been revealed in this book.


First published 27.9.06

Last revised:  23.10.06



Footnote 1 - Gerald Hawkins

Hawkins noticed that some of the most visually striking of the crop-circle patterns embodied geometric theorems that express specific numerical relationships among the areas of various circles, triangles, and other shapes making up the patterns.  (Science News: 2/1/92, p. 76).  Some of the  patterns also displayed exact numerical relationships, all of them involving a diatonic ratio, the simple whole-number ratios that determine a scale of musical notes. "These designs demonstrate the remarkable mathematical ability of their creators".  .Hawkins found that he could use the principles of Euclidean geometry to prove four theorems derived from the relationships among the areas depicted in crop circles. He also discovered a fifth, more general theorem, from which he could derive the other four. "This theorem involves concentric circles which touch the sides of a triangle, and as the [triangle] changes shape, it generates the special crop-circle geometries,"  .Hawkins' fifth crop-circle theorem involves a triangle and various concentric circles touching the triangle's sides and corners. Different triangles give different sets of circles. An equilateral triangle produces one of the observed crop-circle patterns; three isosceles triangles generate the other crop-circle geometries. What is most surprising is that all geometries give diatonic (musical) ratios. Never before had geometric theorems been linked with music .Curiously, Hawkins could find no reference to such a theorem in the works of Euclid or in any other book that he consulted. When he challenged readers of Science News and The Mathematics Teacher to come up with his unpublished theorem, given only the four variations, no one reported success.


Footnote 2: 

The Milk Hill Script (from both directions)


BELOW: Superimposition of the Field Guide 'message'.  If the FG version is correct, the makers have been rather careless with their spacing layout around the 'T''s. 

The 'K' is rather unhappily formed, one would expect the lower part to have a slanted leg.


BELOW: Diagram in the Field Guide which purports to accurately depict the formation:  Note the careful  (some might say dishonest?)  'adjustments' in the spacing to avoid drawing attention to the careless layout and the squashed 'T's.  






If the FG version is correct, whoever did make the formation wouldn't get as job as a signwriter!  That goes for ET too - it's sloppy work.  Look how the bottom ends of the letters wander off a straight line.



From a posting on the CCC forum by an acknowledged human circlemaker, on imperfections.


Heres how it seems researchers ALWAYS deal with putting us down when we do demonstrations. Firstly any circle we do is always put down as not being anywhere near as good as the "real thing". The real thing is usually something which is never claimed by Circlemakers anyhow because Circlemakers want their best works to have the anonymity which will give the circle more attraction. When high quality circles such as my Basket which had interwoven lay, are claimed as being man made, I am then told by researchers I must be off my head as there is no way that was my circle. So I cannot win. If you claim a circle people/researchers usually say "thats crap" and dont bother to promote it.

Next researchers will pick away points which have very little to do with the reality of what a circle is or how similar it is in ways to most crop circles. It usually is just a way to have a moan at us.

The reality is that in most demo circles attempt circlemakers are very concerned we dont mess them up. We want to stick as closely to our design and make sure we dont deviate otherwise we will get really criticised if we get it even slightly wrong. When doing demos in front of TV cameras or newspapers or even researchers we are under extra pressure to get it right. Just think how much scorn would be levelled at us if we make a mess of it. When being asked to replicate a circle that has already appeared, how is it going to look if we cant copy it exactly.

For these reasons we try to pick challenging circles but not the mind boggler circles. After all, to complete the mind boggling circles often requires a top notch team, all the hours of darkness with no distractions (like TV crews and photographers wanting to stop you all the time). You also a need large numbers of circlemakers. Often demos are done with just a few circlemakers, not teams of 10 or more. So you have to limit yourself to what you can reasonably achieve.

I would imagine most paper and pencil artists would struggle to make perfect copies of even their own works. People are not photocopiers!

Demo circles often have to be created where the TV crews or circlemakers can haggle the use of a field. This can mean the farmer will put you in a spot you may not have wanted to use in odd or unsuitable crops, but it is all you can get. When making circles illegally you can pick the best field exactly where you want. For example i was given a field of damaged crop to work on this summer, which the farmer got paid for. I would have chosen a better field, but had no choice in the matter. The subsequent circle looked tatty. It doesnt help that I wasnt able to be involved in picking the field. Researchers might use this type of tatty circle as ammo against us that we dont do good quality work. Circlemakers are far better off picking their own fields. Hence another very good reason why it is easier for circlemaker team to stay illegal... you dont have to pay the farmer and you get to work exactly where you want to.

So it is important to realise that when on some rare occasions you can get a highly skilled team together and work like stink and pull off a really fine quality circle, it does not follow that when doing a demo under less than perfect conditions with a smaller team and less experienced circlemakers that any circlemaker team would dare risk trying to replicate a masterpiece.

I like the idea of doing it, and indeed it has been done one some rare occasions, but it takes a lot and carries a risk of failure.

What a lot of researchers do not realise is that a lot of circles which are considered masterpieces actually do have mistakes in them. Sometimes this is not easily spotted unless you are a circlemaker who has an eye for these things or you are a researcher who bothers to see if the circle is mapped out equally or with perfect symmetry. Just because a circle looks amazing does not mean it is perfect. Circle sizes can vary and even lines which are appear straight are crooked but just look ok from certain photographic perspectives. The eye tends to correct a lot of mistakes and the eye is very good at making up what it thinks should be patterns and then starts to see what it wants to see in a design. I have demonstrated this point many times in my lectures where I show slides and point out the mistakes.