An episode of the History Channel's UFO conspiracy theory show "Ancient Aliens" raises a question: A crop circle in England has the same pattern as one etched on a rock found next to the legendary "UFO crash site" in Roswell, New Mexico. Is this a sign that extraterrestrials are trying to communicate with us?
The short answer is no. But we'll walk through the reasoning for that conclusion here.
Crop circles, or circular geometric patterns that have been appearing in agricultural fields since the 1970s, are human-created hoaxes. Nevertheless, they continue to capture the imaginations of UFO enthusiasts who believe them to be signs that intelligent alien life not only visited Earth, but delivered cryptic (albeit annoying, no doubt, to crop owners) messages.
As Smithsonian Magazine reported in 2009, two English artists, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, copped to being the ones behind a spate of crop circles that appeared in southern England from the 1970s through the 1990s.
The men, landscape painters by trade, made designs in fields that created something of a cultural phenomenon, Smithsonian reported, attracting "a gaggle of self-appointed experts. An efflorescence of mystical and magical thinking, scientific and pseudo-scientific research, conspiracy theories and general pandemonium broke out." Smithsonian further reported:
Almost as soon as crop circles became public knowledge, they attracted a gaggle of self-appointed experts. An efflorescence of mystical and magical thinking, scientific and pseudo-scientific research, conspiracy theories and general pandemonium broke out. The patterns stamped in fields were treated as a lens through which the initiated could witness the activity of earth energies and ancient spirits, the anguish of Mother Earth in the face of impending ecological doom, and evidence of secret weapons testing and, of course, aliens. Today, one of the more vigorously promoted ideas is that they are messages, buried in complex numerological codes, concerning a Great Change connected to the pre-Columbian Mayan calendar and due to occur in 2012.
But this rash of mystical and conspiratorial thinking linked to crop circles didn't appear in a vacuum. It appeared against the backdrop of the fact that strange crop patterns had been reported for centuries, and sometimes these reports were linked to alleged UFO landings.
When hoaxers provide fake evidence that feeds into an existing legend, the term used for that by folklorists is "ostension," per Smithsonian. So when Bower and Chorley created their crop circles in the later half of the 20th Century, that was an act of ostension.
A similar thing can possibly be said about the Roswell Rock.
The Roswell Rock
The "Ancient Aliens" episode mentioned at the beginning of this story notes that in 2004, a New Mexico man named Robert Ridge found a rock 11 miles from the famed Roswell site, widely believed among UFO enthusiasts to have been an alien ship crash site in 1947. The rock was unique because had a design bearing the same pattern as a crop circle in England, and because it allegedly had magnetic properties.
An image of the two can be seen in the tweet here:
But finding a rock near Roswell with an etching that matches the pattern used in a crop circle hoax isn't evidence of an extraterrestrial message to Earth. In 2008, a glass artists replicated the rock using a technique called precision stone carving.
"Replicating the Roswell Rock." Glasston Studio. https://glasstonestudio.com/blog/?page_id=402. Accessed 26 Apr. 2022.
Irving, Rob and Peter Brookesmith. “Crop Circles: The Art of the Hoax.” Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/crop-circles-the-art-of-the-hoax-2524283/. Accessed 26 Apr. 2022.