During the summer of 1991 interest in the crop circles in England reached a fever pitch. Newspapers were awash with photos of new formations and articles about this strange phenomenon. Fascinated members of the public converged on parts of Wiltshire where the circles were appearing and farmers often charged money for access to their cropfields.
Giving the subject a certain legitimacy was scientist Dr. Terence Meaden, meteorologist and author, who had proposed that an elusive natural phenomenon, the Plasma Vortex, was causing these mysterious patterns in the crops. To prove his theory he set up an observation project with a team of Japanese scientists on a hilltop between Calne and Devizes where a watch was carried out using radar and other scientific devices. Nevertheless, the agency that caused the crop circles continued to evade detection and, despite the appearance of some circles in the fields below, nothing definite was established.
During the previous year the phenomenon had progressed from simple circles in the corn to highly elaborate shapes called pictograms which embodied both circles and rectilinear elements. Although most investigators (myself included) saw clear evidence of intelligent design, Dr. Meaden continued to insist that his plasma vortex was the answer, even suggesting that one could explode like some physical mechanism scattering cogwheels and springs, causing straight lines and possible key-shapes to result. Other researchers would cautiously allow that some unknown intelligence was at work, but at the start of 1991 there were few who seriously believed that the crop circles were all man-made.
So for quite some time, Dr. Meaden’s theory became the official explanation and puzzled journalists and TV interviewers would frequently turn to him when the subject was discussed. On July 17, 1991, a vast new crop formation appeared in the fields below the Iron Age hill-fort called Barbury Castle. This attracted huge interest from “croppies” (crop circle enthusiasts), the public, and the media alike. But there was no possible way that this could be explained as resulting from a plasma vortex, and to his credit, Dr. Meaden declared it must be a man-made hoax. Even so, there were many who saw this new wonder as part of the genuine phenomenon.
All of this was just a few weeks before Doug and Dave came out with their claim in Today newspaper to have made all the crop circles—a claim not universally accepted since there were many formations, like this one at Barbury Castle, which they could not possibly have made.
The Milk Hill Script
In early August 1991 a strange new crop formation looking like a line of some unknown script was found in a wheat field below Milk Hill near Alton Barnes. Croppie John Martineau, who had been out on Milk Hill in the early hours, was first to report this and described it as a “line of runes.” Runes are the characters of certain ancient secret alphabets, consisting mainly of squares with one or two sides missing in particular orientations. These symbols correspond to the letters of the alphabet. With his talk of runes, some wrongly suspected John himself of having hoaxed this formation.
Most of us were deeply puzzled by the meaning of this weird cipher. In due course The Cerealogist, “The Journal for Crop Circle Studies,” under the editorship of John Michell, offered a prize of £100 to anyone who could come up with a convincing solution to the riddle. Many tried but no one succeeded.
The best known attempt was OPPONO ASTOS, suggested by the late Professor Gerald Hawkins, author of the book Stonehenge Decoded. Hawkins claimed that this meant “I oppose acts of craft and cunning” in Latin, although the accusative plural astos is a bit dubious. The acts of craft and cunning were held to be crop circle hoaxes.
Other cryptographers, similarly using a straight substitution code, produced EFFETE ORDER or else ESSENE ORDER, neither of which seemed relevant. Few saw any merit in these solutions.
Others offered interpretations more in line with their crop circle beliefs. The American mystery-hunter Erik Beckjord had stamped out TALK TO US in a wheat field a few miles away two days earlier, a message presumably aimed at the aliens or whatever other intelligence lay behind the crop circles. He saw the Milk Hill Script as a reply, though curiously he decided that the message was in Korean. Michael Green, Chairman of the Centre for Crop Circle Studies, found the meaning of the crop cipher was in an Atlantean language known only to him. He claimed that the circlemakers’ message meant “Creator, Wise and Loving.”
The message was bounded by small circles at each end, which were not considered part of the text. That was correct. Hawkins assumed that the character ll indicated a word break. It did not. For some reason he thought the message was in Latin. No, it was in English. More importantly, it was far from clear which way up the text was meant to be. That would determine whether it should be read from left to right or from right to left. In fact the text is the right way up as it is shown in the accompanying photograph, and Hawkins in producing his incorrect solution read the text from back to front.
When I was editor of The Cerealogist a year later, I renewed the challenge to translate the Milk Hill Script and also our offer of £100. Surely someone must know what these strange runes meant. I had assumed that by now, at any rate, the human circlemakers responsible would step forward and claim the prize. But that was not to be.
I can now reveal the true meaning of the Milk Hill Script and hopefully I intend to award the £100 to Steve Marshall of Yatesbury, Wilts, who was the first person to inform me of it. He is not the circlemaker who laid down the formation and I’m still unsure whether that person (let us call him “A”) was ever aware that a prize was on offer.
I used to assume that the creators of those magnificent crop formations back in 1991, which some referred to as the legendary “A-team” without knowing their identity, were probably people who were known to the croppies at the time. These A-team circlemakers, if they existed, I reasoned, would have found it difficult to resist hanging out in their newly produced circles during the day, and mixing with croppies who had come to wonder at them. They would have become familiar faces and might even have attended crop circle conferences at the time. But maybe I was wrong, and maybe this “A-team” shrunk from public view.
A few years ago another more recent circlemaker, “B,” was out walking at the Cherhill monument which is on a hilltop in Wiltshire. He overheard a man he
didn’t recognize talking to some other visitors to the monument about crop circles. He clearly displayed a degree of inside knowledge on the subject. B waited until the others had left and then went over and talked with the man, who turned out to be “A.” When A realized this was a fellow circlemaker, he became rather more candid. He told B that he and his friends had made the Barbury Castle formation in July 1991 and that they had also made the famous Milk Hill Script. To prove that what he was saying was true, he went on to reveal the meaning of this script. The simple message consisted of just three words run together:
The A-team’s little joke was to first write the lower half of the capital letters of this message up against a tractor “tramline.” This would prove indecipherable— as it did—and then, when it had attracted sufficient attention, they would return by night and complete it. (Lettering of the message used by the A-team is examined in more detail in the sidebar.)
However the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry. The farmer was not at all pleased by the appearance of this cryptic inscription in his wheat field or by the subsequent invasion by croppies keen to examine it, believing that it might be a message from the aliens or from spiritual beings of a higher order. He destroyed it as soon as he could by harvesting the crop in that field. The A-team had no opportunity to return and complete their mischief. There were only a few aerial photos taken of the half-message during its brief existence, such as the one shown here taken by Jürgen Krönig.
Although neither the aliens, nor indeed myself, would have phrased it quite so crudely, the message does express a sentiment with which I would have concurred at the time. Meaden had indeed talked a lot of nonsense and this certainly helped give the crop circles a false legitimacy. This is in no way an attempt to shift the blame for the madness which the circles provoked at the time, since many of us were taken in, and it took a few years for some of the
researchers to come back down to earth. In 1990 and summer 1991 this madness was at its height and there were few people prepared to even entertain the possibility that the whole phenomenon might be man-made.
Today there are still some diehard croppies who will dispute what I say, but they will find it hard to reject this solution to the mysterious cipher at Milk H
And, if they reluctantly accept that, they should also consider whether A and his friends made the great formation at Barbury Castle two weeks earlier. It seems most probable to me that this was indeed the case.
George Wingfield has lectured on crop circles and the UFO subject in England and the U.S. He has also appeared on TV and radio and contributed to books and magazines.
The Milk Hill Script Lettering
It can be seen from the photograph that the lettering used in this message is composed entirely of straight lines and that no curved or diagonal components are present. What sort of script lettering did the authors of the message intend using?
My suggestion is that the intention was to mimic a basic type of font that is widely employed in displays using LCD or LED electronic devices, such as digital clocks or signs. The matrix used to represent each letter might, for example, be a seven-element LED display of the following shape: This consists of two squares joined together by a common side. As an LED device, each of the seven sides of the two squares can be lit or unlit and the resulting combinations are used to represent different numeric digits or letters. When such a matrix is used to represent the digits 0–9 only, the results are unambiguous and will be familiar to most people, since such numbers are commonly used in digital clocks (with the vertical elements sloped slightly to the right).
Less familiar is the use of such a matrix to represent the capital letters of the alphabet. Clearly some letters, such as those with diagonal components, will be more poorly represented than those without. If we equate a lit LED with a side being present and unlit with it being absent, it can be shown how characters in this format can be used as an alphanumeric font. The LED character shown in the previous paragraph, with all sides lit or present, could be used to represent the digit 8 or the capital letter B.
Some LED displays of this variety are used to represent capital letters only. It can be seen that the capital letters A B C D E F G are represented fairly satisfactorily in this format:
And likewise, the letters H I L O P S U are:
One may object to the fact that D and O are represented identically and the same would be true for A and R. For these reasons a reduced character set of less than 26 letters must be used if one is to avoid ambiguity. Some of the capitals such as J K M N T Y are not so satisfactory but are still recognizable:
Clearly the representation of N as two verticals is not ideal, and there are capital letters such as O R Q V W X Z which cannot be easily represented without any ambiguity and are best avoided. Therefore one’s short message might need to be restricted, say, by using a 19-character-only alphabet which avoids these letters.
Nevertheless the letters which we have defined above are sufficient to spell out the crop message. Using this font it appears as:
When the upper half of this lettering is removed, one gets the incomplete message, which is what actually appeared in the field:
Apart from the fact that the small gap in the middle was closed up a bit, this is exactly what was found below Milk Hill on that day back in August 1991.