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The link between crop circles and so-called ‘wind damage’ has been explored before, but new research in Italy suggests there is a much closer link than anyone previously suspected. MARJORIE TOMKINS reports on the fascinating work being done there…

‘Centro Studi Cerchi nel Grano’ is based in Milano, Italy, where it has documented and studied crop circles in the USA, England and Italy over the past 10 years. Originally, we did not really think it possible to enquire into the origins of crop circles, but over the years we have accumulated a body of information and experiences which suggest hypotheses regarding possible causes of crop circle formation.

We feel the time has come to share this information with other researchers. Further information and documentation are available from:

Centro Studi Cerchi nel Grano
via Malpighi 12
20129 Milano


Did the first perfect English crop circle that appeared in the 70s arrive ex-novo, or did it evolve out of something else? Even though we can’t turn the clock back to find out, people living in countries with no crop circles have had the unique opportunity to lie in wait to try to catch the first signs of the phenomenon appearing in their fields.

This is exactly what we have attempted to do in Italy over the last 10 years. There were still no crop circles in Italy in 1994 – with one significant exception, which we will come back to later – and there continued to be no trace of them for a number of years.

By 1994/5, crop circles had begun spreading throughout countries all over the world, so we thought that chances were they’d come to Italy too. We would go to England to study the fields so we could recognize them in their earliest, most primitive stages if they ever got to Italy. Our problem was, we didn’t know what that “primitive stage” consisted of, unless it was as we tended to imagine, a small perfect simple circle.

In England our attention was caught not only by the circles themselves but also by the fields full of “lodging” or “wind damage”, which almost invariably surrounded the area where a crop circle appeared. This was a phenomenon we had never encountered in Italy. We were intrigued by the way the wind damage blots in areas like Uffington rounded out more and more and even acquired (messy) central tufts as one drew nearer the area where the pictogram had appeared. Sometimes we would find pieces of pictograms merged with lodged areas: what had happened?

Search though we did, we could find no examples of this strangely behaving damage in Italy... until the summer of 1998, when Italian fields from north to south were literally peppered with lodging, in spite of the fact that there were no anomalous weather patterns that summer. Italian farmers call this “allettamento” or “bedding down” of the crop. Like English farmers, they say it is due to wind, rain or excessive use of fertilizer.

On entering the early lodged areas, we were surprised to see undamaged laid crop, sharply defined zig-zag paths, “combing” of the crop in two opposite directions on either side of a central “parting line”, multiple multi-directional layering and other details of crop circle lays we’d seen in England. It was as if someone had been trying out brushstrokes without attempting a unified design.

A person who commuted from the countryside to work at Milan every day sent photos of almost daily changes in the lodging in a field his train passed near the town of Vermezzo, Lombardy. The first day there had been small downed areas surrounding standing cylinders of crop in the corners of the field. Each successive day more of the field was laid, until by harvest time there were only isolated cylinders in a totally flattened field. The neighbouring fields were untouched.

To get a clearer idea of what was happening, we enlisted the help of two groups of volunteers: a group of “travellers” who reported wind-damage areas to be later visited and studied, and a group of “permanent observers” living in rural areas, next to or very close to fields which they observe every day of the growing season. They note and report on any lodging phenomena in the fields under observation, weather conditions, especially at night, etc. If the lodging begins to expand (or contract) the field is visited and photographed by researchers.

In those early days, our secret hope was that one day we might find, in the midst of a mass of lodging, the first perfect Italian circle, just as we had found pictograms surrounded by heavily lodged areas in the USA and England. But what we were to discover was something very different. Thanks to the invaluable help of our network of observers, here is a summary of some of the things we found out year by year:

1) More than 50% of the lodged areas observed arrive or become radically “rearranged” on stormless, windless, rainless nights.

However, a substantial amount of downed areas, and formerly downed areas, that have been “redesigned” have been observed immediately after storms which shroud the field in mist or pouring rain. One of the mysteries of these crop-downing storms is that they do not create uniform damage in the area hit. There may be only half of a single field affected (with its other half untouched). Or one finds the “skipped field” pattern with two or three fields quite distant from each other downed, while the many fields between them are standing in perfect condition.

We have asked farmers with fields downed on windless, rainless nights if they had any information that explained the phenomenon. So far, all the Italian farmers we have talked to have been so convinced of the wind/rain damage explanation that they do not stop to consider the facts. Here is a typical exchange with a farmer with heavy wind damage near Pisa in 1998:

FARMER: “The fields are like this because of the storm. Everything was fine yesterday evening at 9.00pm. We woke up this morning and that’s the state it was in”.

US: “So you had a storm last night?”

FARMER: “No, last night was calm. The storm was three days ago. It’s the wind and rain that does this.”

2) A significant number of randomly downed fields are revisited, sometimes repeatedly, sometimes at intervals of only two or three days. Each visit leaves the field looking completely different.

Usually the downed areas are expanded, but not always. In 2002, part of the downed crop in a field in Dresano, Lombardy was stood up on its feet again.

3) Lodging offers almost endless variations on a theme, some of them quite bizarre.

Among these are “dice-lodging”, where the stalks in given areas of the field are singed and diced up; or “clod-lodging”, where rectangular clods of earth up to more than a foot in length have been extracted from the area under the downed plants and laid on top of them.

Probably the prize goes to the tied up maize bundles found near Vigevano, Lombardy in 2003. Next to an area of lodged maize was a large area of still-standing plants which had those leaves which were growing at a height of 1.5 metres incised as if by a laser. Each leaf had then had its tip pulled through the incision in its neighbour leaf and tightly bound around the stalk, corn ears and all to the top of the plant, just like a big package. The leaf-tips were knotted with elegant Japanese-style knots, and the 2-metre tall maize bundles were green and growing.

4) Possibly the most interesting discovery is that wind damage – at least in Italy – is not a stable event which repeats itself in the way that other natural phenomena such as wind and rain do, but, to the contrary, is at present quickly evolving.

During the first years of massive arrival of lodging in Italy, there was a progressive increase in the number of lodged fields and the size of the downed areas. In the summer of 2000 we observed rudimentary half-swirls united to the ground lay in the standing areas of some lodged fields.

The summer of 2001 brought with it the first clear, complete centre swirls, similar to those found in the centre of English crop circles. The structure of the lodged fields surrounding these first small swirls was still chaotic, but the boundary lines of the downed areas were beginning to straighten out.

The year of 2002 was the turning point. As we walked through the downed areas of fields with their Wiltshire-smooth ground lays, almost-straight corridors, and admired the large “professional” swirls, which were placed closer and closer to the centres of still amorphous lodged areas, we felt almost incredulous. Was the lodging actually structuring itself into a semi-geometry ?

The answer came that autumn during the rice harvest, when two observers photographed a series of enormous, perfect rectangles that had formed in the rice fields near Novara, Piemonte. They were surrounded by a vast area of lodging, also with rough rectangular shapes.

With the 2003 season, at least 20 ‘proper’ crop circles and pictograms arrived throughout Italy. Curiously, for the first time since 1998, the number of lodged areas diminished drastically in all areas under observation.

The 2004 Italian crop circle season has attracted the attention of the international community with its large, generally well-laid designs, such as the unusual pictogram at Sabaudia, Lazio. There is already a notable difference between the 2003 crop circles and the greater complexity and size of the figures and the better quality of the lay of the 2004 crop circles.

Lodging has returned in great quantity in 2004 and where it appears near crop circles, seems to have some sort of interaction with them. For example, lodging that formed in the field next to the expanding Rho, Lombardy, pictogram continued to expand nightly along with the pictogram, as office workers overlooking the fields reported.

5) Lodging and crop circles have many characteristics in common, perhaps almost all, apart from geometry.

It was during this seven-year period of the metamorphosis of Italian lodging into pictograms that the world experts on the biophysics of crop circles, William C. Levengood, John Burke and Nancy Talbott [see], confirmed that crop samples taken from lodged areas and tested in their laboratory shared the characteristics of samples taken from crop circles.

They gave this downing caused by unknown forces the name of “non-geometrical formations”. We will use this name (or the abbreviated form, “NGF”) to refer to cases of lodging where we are reasonably certain that weather/fertilizer conditions are not involved, especially since this name so well fits the process we have observed.

Over the five-year period during which there arrived only non-geometrical formations in Italy, an entire range of phenomena normally associated with geometrical crop circles has been witnessed. Among these was the sighting of large luminous objects flying low over the fields, leaving an NGF in their wake. A good number of these events happened during the daytime and in the presence of a number of witnesses; in particular, in and around the city of Voghera in 2001, where one of these objects actually hovered over a field next to a shopping mall bustling with surprised clients.

Balls of light, luminous particles and anomalous sounds have been seen and heard inside these NGF formations, albeit less frequently than in geometrical formations.

The great majority of NGFs appear in “magnet areas” whose characteristics are:

1) Presence of water
2) Presence of pre/historical sites
3) Presence of any kind of pollution
4) Presence of military facilities
5) or a combination of any of these

These magnet areas correspond to the type of site that often “attracts” crop circles.

We know of several cases of mechanical failure in the non-geometricals, although, again, this happens more rarely than in crop circles. On the other hand, both animals and people in NGFs are often visibly affected and have unusual sensations or behaviour.

This data is especially interesting in light of the fact that no one would dream of hoaxing a non-geometrical formation, particularly in Italy, where the entire subject of crop circles was practically unknown to the general public up to the summer of 2004.

There had been, as we said, no reports of crop circles in Italy before 1998, “with one significant exception”, which is a very big exception indeed. We now have numerous testimonies that both crop circles and non-geometrical formations have existed in Italy for at least several generations.

The difference between the pre-1998 and post-1998 crop circle arrivals is that before 1998 both crop circles and NGFs seem to have regularly visited very restricted areas of two types:

1) Special pre/historic sites
2) Military facilities (or a combination of both).

For example, there is an area surrounding the Bay of Cagliari in Sardegna where crop circles arrived for years before they came to the rest of Italy. Crop circle researcher Stefano Carrera found articles in the local paper archives on the Internet, documenting these events.

This area was once an important ceremonial site in pre-Roman, Punic, and Roman times. At the end of World War II the USA built military bases in the same area.

As recently as the year 2000, military personnel were quite incautious when a large crop circle arrived right near the base. Hundreds of visitors came to see it and, after prohibiting all air photos, the base command ordered the farmer to cut the crop and plough up his field immediately, declaring publicly “This is a military secret and leaving the field in its present state will cause disturbance to the base.”

A similar area exists in the Ticino River valley in the north of Italy, where there is the Remondň military base. In recent years a luminous object was observed flying over the base, leaving behind an NGF on its way. Military spokesmen denied both events even though both were photographed. This was once a pre-Celtic ceremonial area.

Farmers here remember their grandparents talking about finding NGFs, and residents have seen NGFs and the odd crop circle arrive for almost 20 years before the explosion of non-geometricals in 1998.

Crop circle researcher Massimo Meda has studied specific fields where NGFs arrive year after year, as far back as the oldest resident can remember. In some cases the historical records he has found show that these fields were sites of ancient temples, churches, etc.

In the end, all this raises more questions than it answers. Even if crop circles in Italy have somehow developed out of non-geometrical formations, does this necessarily hold for other countries as well, or do regional differences influence the development as well as the national styles of crop circles? We would be very interested to know if anyone has information about the early evolution of crop circles in other countries, and by what process a non-geometrical formation is produced.



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