There have now been over 10,000 documented crop circle formations - see cropcirclecenter.com for an awesome database - with the vast majority in the 1990s and 2000s after Doug Bower and Dave Chorley revealed to the press how easy they were to make with little more than string and a piece of wood. They took credit for over 200 circles created across England over the previous decade or so, crediting 1960s news stories about 'saucer nests' in Australia with the initial inspiration.
What had been a fairly basic artform quickly developed into something seriously impressive as artists around the world attempted to outdo each other in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Later, inevitably, public interest trailed off with a growing awareness of their man made nature and general over exposure, and some of the best crop circles today tend to be organised competition entries or paid publicity stunts.
Check out The Croppie for up to date news on what's happening in the crop circle world.
Anyway, here are five of my favourites...
#5. Galaxy, 2001
This absolutely massive formation from 2001 is probably one of the best known of the whole phenomenon. Discovered on the morning of August 12th at Milk Hill in Wiltshire, it was made up of 409 circles and measured some 780 foot across! It allegedly took a team of 13 people over six hours to complete and remains one of the biggest on record.
#4. Crabwood, 2002
This c. 300 ft formation was discovered at Vale Farm in Hampshire on August 15th. The 'grey' alien is very nicely done, but what marked this one out as particularly special was the disc (pizza...) he is carrying. Analysis revealed it to be a message printed in binary code:
"Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES. Much PAIN but still time. (Damaged word [possibly 'believe'). There is GOOD out there. We OPpose DECEPTION. Conduit CLOSING (BELL SOUND)".
#3. Bow Hill, 1932
As circles go, it's not particularly impressive. Except for the fact it was discovered in 1932 and we have some nice contemporary photos of it! Doug Bower and Dave Chorley contended that crop circles were completely unknown in the UK before they created their first one in 1978 but that is clearly untrue. The same people behind the Old Crop Circles site have one pointing out the problems and inconsistencies with Bower and Chorley's confession.
There are a few of them, it's impossible to argue otherwise. But whether they cover up an attempt to lay claim to other (better...) artists' work or something more sinister is very much open to debate. Simple crop circles, imo, can definitely be formed by natural phenomena as evidenced by various cases around the world. (weather, earthworks, animal activity, etc.)
And, who knows, perhaps a few of them really are left behind by extraterrestrial visitors. Stranger things have happened!
#2. Milk Hill, 2009
Geometric designs are pretty and everything but, as this list shows, I'm all about the codes. This formation at Milk Hill, Wiltshire, appeared in three distinct phases. The radar/sextant bit appeared first, discovered on June 21st, then came the blocks and circle trails on June 23rd. Finally the glyphs were found added on June 38th. 11 years on and it has yet to be fully decoded!
#1. Arecibo Response, 2001
The Arecibo message was sent out into space, via radio waves, in November 1974. It encoded a bunch of basic info about earth, the solar system and the human race, and was created to celebrate the remodelling of the Puerto Rican radio telescope it was sent from. Then, on August 21st 2001, a response was discovered in Chilbolton, alongside an image of an alien face.
Coded messages would become almost commonplace over the next few years, but nothing can really recapture the excitement of this one having a first decipherable 'communication' from space. Along with its contemporary 'Galaxy' formation, this was the crop circle levelling up for the 21st century.
ETA: I hadn't come across this one before but wow! This basket weave formation was found on August 6th 1999 at Bishops Cannings in Wiltshire. It lasted a mere three hours before the farmer destroyed it...