The Ten Most Iconic Crop Circles

Jul 10, 2023 | Lists | 0 comments

Given how freely the word ‘iconic’ gets thrown around on certain Facebook groups, The Croppie thought it time to revisit the matter of which crop circles are truly iconic.

What do we mean by ‘iconic’? It doesn’t mean ‘a tag to be slapped upon one’s own crop circle by a self-aggrandising planker who desperately needs to prop up his own ego’. Instead, The Croppie follows the definition in the Oxford dictionary:

‘relating to or of the nature of an icon; regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.’

So, read on to see which circles have been the most important, the most recognisable and have best represented the public perspective of the circles phenomenon.

Originally published in February 2020, this article has been revised in July 2023.

10. Barbury Castle, nr Wroughton; July 1991

Photograph by George Wingfield

These days, the July 1991 formation at Barbury Castle, near Swindon, is something of a withered icon. By contemporary standards it is nothing too impressive – just look at how one of the sides of the centre enclosing ‘triangle’ is bent enough to render it an irregular quadrilateral! However, in an historical context, the impact of this circle was massive, meriting it the title ‘the mother of all pictograms’. It is easy to understand why. In a time when most pictograms sported rings, avenues, forks and ladders, the Barbury event provided the croppie community with something new. Accordingly, images of the formation have graced the covers and pages of various books. John Michel, new age author, geometer and editor of The Cerealogist suggested the formation’s geometry held ‘deep cosmological significance’, whilst fellow researcher Peter Sorensen suggested it was ‘perhaps the most significant crop circle of all.’

9. Barbury Castle, Wroughton; June 2008

Photograph by Steve Alexander

Beautifully executed, wonderfully minimalist and constructed across a public footpath under the slope of Barbury Castle, this formation seems to be a pictoral representation of the Pi mathematical sequence. It continues to capture the imagination of croppies for its encoded message.

8. Great Shelford, Cambridge; July 2001

Photograph by Steve Alexander

Visitors to The Barge at Honeystreet will be familiar with this formation, nicknamed ‘The Angel’, as it forms the backdrop to the pub sign. It’s an odd choice given the abundance of fantastic crop circles to have appeared in the near vicinity – Honeystreet is in Wiltshire and Great Shelford is near Cambridge – but the July 2001 circle’s simplistic beauty and elegance speaks for itself.



7. Crooked Soley, nr Hungerford; August 2002

Photograph by Steve Alexander

Late in August 2002, as the combine harvesters closed in, photographer Steve Alexander managed to snap a series of photos of an incredible formation close to the tiny Berkshire village of Crooked Soley. It appeared to resemble a circular loop of DNA and was constructed from 1296 quadrants, of which 509 had been flattened. This mind-bending circle raised numerous questions over its meaning and method of creation. It also inspired cerealogists Allan Brown and John Michell to produce a book on the formation entitled, appropriately enough, Crooked Soley.

6. Windmill Hill, Avebury; July 1996

Photograph by Steve Alexander

How could it be possible to surpass the original Julia Set? Put three together to make a formation that continues to adorn circles merchandise around the world.

5. Chilbolton Radio Telescope, Stockbridge, August 2001

Photograph by Steve Alexander

The Arecibo message was beamed into space during 1974 in the hope it may be intercepted by an alien intelligence. This crop circle arrived as a respsonse.

According to Andrew Griffin, writing for The Independent, ‘Where the original Arecibo message had shown blocks of information including depictions of important chemicals like carbon, an illustration of DNA and a picture of a human being. The hoax reply [of 2001] was probably too perfect: carbon was swapped for silicon, the DNA was altered and the human being was replaced with a big-headed alien of the kind seen in science fiction.’

The location of the formation also helped capture the public imagination; right next to the radio telescope at Chilbolton, Hampshire. It was discovered at the same time as the perhaps more impressive — but these days less known — ‘face’ formation.

4. Milk Hill, nr Alton Barnes; July 1991

Photograph by Steve Alexander

A crop circle that everyone knows and loves. The 12 August 2001 ‘galaxy’ formation spanned an enormous 450m in diameter and some ten tramlines. It contains around 400 circles and, according to the website ‘if this formation was man made allowing for time to get into and out of the field under cover of darkness the construction time left should be around four hours. Given that there are over 400 circles some of which span approx 70ft in diameter that would mean that one of those circles would need to be created every 30 seconds’ and that’s one huge achievement.

Croppie Charles Mallett claims there is no way the ‘galaxy’ could be man-made as he was camping on Milk Hill at the time of its arrival and wasn’t disturbed. In 2012 the actress Sarah Miles challenged any interested circle making team to precisely reproduce the ‘galaxy’ formation for a £100,000 prize. Given the ridiculous nature of terms and conditions placed upon any would be participants it’s hardly surprising there were no takers.

3. Crab Wood, Sparsholt, Winchester; August 2002

Photograph by Steve Alexander

The Crab Wood circle of August 2002 reflected renewed public interest in the UFO mystery, but it is surely also the most mind-blowing formation of all time. At ground level it was astonishingly indecipherable, but from above it was a pictorial representation of the archetypal grey alien presenting a disk. Inside this accessory was a coded binary message; ‘Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES. Much PAIN but still time. BELIEVE. There is GOOD out there. We OPpose DECEPTION. Conduit CLOSING.’

For some, this message has been just as striking as the formation. Who are the bearers of false gifts and why is the conduit closing? Did the latter represent just the end of the message or did it mean something deeper?

The Crab Wood formation briefly featured in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 crop circle themed movie Signs. Despite allegations from veteran circles researcher Colin Andrews in 2019, there is no evidence that this formation was a commission paid for by movie production company Touchstone Pictures.

2. Stonehenge, Amesbury; July 1996

Photograph by Steve Alexander

If you hadn’t come across crop circles before the mid-1990s then this will surely be your crop circle icon…

The appearance of the Julia Set formation at Stonehenge on 7 July 1996 beckoned in a sequence of crop circles resembling fractals – mathematical patterns which are self-similar at different scales. Its design and relationship to sacred geometry through a Fibonacci curve enough to capture the public imagination (American ufologist Michael Lindemann noted how quickly representations of the formation ‘adorned websites, posters and t-shirts across Europe and America’), but the circle’s iconic status was ensured by the tale from a pilot who had flown over Stonehenge and claimed it could only have appeared, in broad daylight, during a 45 minute window.

1. East Field, Alton Priors; July 1990

Photograph by George Wingfield

The sleepy twin villages of Alton Priors and Alton Barnes rest unassumingly under the steep, southern escarpment of Marlborough Downs. On the 12th July 1990 they awoke to the presence of a vast, 430 feet long pictogram in East Field, a vast grain field farmed by Tim Carson and his wife Polly. Unprecedented in its size and complexity at the time, the formation blew the minds of croppies and the general public alike. Tourists and television cameras made their way to the beautiful Vale of Pewsey to view the circle from the top of Knap Hill. Those willing to pay the £1 cost of admission could step inside the formation itself.

The lasting effects of the Alton Priors event were twofold. First, it established the tiny villages of Alton Priors and Alton Barnes as the epicentre of the circles phenomenon around the world. Second, and most importantly, it demonstrated the strength of the circles in the public psyche; a photograph of the formation was used as the basis of the cover of seminal rock band Led Zeppelin’s Remasters compilation album in October 1990. Indeed, so strong is the memory of the East Field event, if not the design of the circle itself, that some people in 2023 wrongly branded a pictogram style formation at Winterbourne Bassett a ‘copy’ of its much older relation. 

Few people know it, but the East Field circle was one of two huge formations to have appeared on the same night, the other manifesting at nearby Stanton St Bernard. Maybe due to its placement — it was not easy to view from above — the Stanton circle has been largely forgotten.