Not quite as good as visiting these awesome places, but we can at least keep you up to date on what's happening.

Going Around in (Crop) Circles

Over the past fortnight, legendary paranormal researcher Jacques Vallee has posted two guest-blogs on (the insanely popular website) Boing Boing, on the topic of crop circles. In the first, "In Search of Alien Glyphs", he details his own alternative theory for their construction (first set out in "Crop Circles: 'Signs from Above' or Human Artifacts?":

In Sept. 1991, I published in a New Age magazine my own hypothesis about the Crop Circles phenomenon. Crop CircleI speculated they involved a military aerial device (not a space-based instrument) for generating such designs using focused microwave beams, such as a "maser." At the time nobody wanted to hear that the beautiful pictures in English corn fields might be crafted by a technical team inside some lab, bouncing signals from a hovering platform and using individual corn stalks as simple pixels to calibrate a lethal device. So my paper was met with dead silence.

Vallee then related his own theory to recent news regarding military use of microwaves. The comments from the Boing Boing crowd were as would be expected - a few supportive of the theory, or at least of Vallee's outside-the-box thinking - but mostly along the lines of...

Just for giggles, why not try some *gasp* actual science?

Look at the stalks. Have they been blasted with microwaves, or just bent by a guy with a two-by-four on a rope?

This fails even as a troll. Stupid conspiracy theories shouldn't have easily testable disproof.

Nevertheless, Vallee followed up his post with a second last week, titled "Alien Glyphs, Human Myths, Blogging Bliss". He began by addressing the many comments to his previous post, by saying his blog entry "could be considered, among other things, as a social science test of the role of belief systems in the manipulation of memes and factual data," going on to "explain why the hypothesis is not a joke but a logical result from observation and from the process of asking the right questions."

On the first point, I fully agree with Jacques. For every crazy gullible believer out there, there's also some armchair expert who thinks any 'skeptically-oriented' explanation that they hear solves the case - without reading any further. In the crop circle case, it's largely the 'Doug and Dave' headline, though if the 'skeptic' has read a bit more deeply, it would be the claims of groups like the Circlemakers and some of their public demonstrations. Belief systems are of all kinds, and aren't just restricted to crazy woos.

On the second point, I can only claim partial agreement. As all readers would know, I am *heavily* in favour of people putting forward alternative, out-of-the-box explanations of mysterious phenomena (as long as they are recognized as such). And Jacques has been clear on multiple occasions that it is just that. So I say good on him for doing so.

However, for me, parsimony suggests that crop circles are, quite simply, made by human artists with relatively simple equipment.

Megalithomania 2010

The 2010 Megalithomania conference (8-9 May at Glastonbury) is looking pretty awesome. Speakers include our good friends Paul Devereux ('Archaeoacoustics and Sacred Geography'), Robert Bauval ('Black Genesis: The Origins of Egypt') and Walter Cruttenden ('The Lost Star of Myth and Time'), as well as Aubrey Burl ('Megalithic Observations') and Andrew Collins ('Beneath the Pyramids: A Lost World'). For those that aren't within reach of Glastonbury, remember to check out the DVDs available of the 2008 and 2009 events (and hopefully, 2010), which include the likes of Graham Hancock and Robert Temple discussing their pet topics.

Google Stonehenge-View

Earlier this year Google asked users to vote in a poll on the tourist attraction they most wanted to see in the 'Street View' mode of Google Maps. Stonehenge topped the poll, and so now you can tour Stonehenge from the comfort of your own home (and while on TDG no less!). Mouse-over the image and follow the arrows to walk around (and through) the famous monument:


View Larger Map

Well worth going the full-screen option to take it in properly, as it's wonderfully up close and personal. (And no, they didn't drive one of those Street View camera cars around the megaliths - it was apparently done with a custom trike suited to off-road mapping). Thanks to the Standing with Stones folk for the heads-up.

Megalithic Mystery

Here's a fascinating video from the wonderful Standing with Stones documentary, a two hour journey exploring the Neolithic and Bronze Age sites of the British Isles. In this particular video, presenter Rupert Soskin is baffled by what appears to be a carved piece of petrified wood in a burial chamber on Anglesy:

When I traveled to the UK ten years ago one of my favourite experiences was visiting megalithic sites - from Stonehenge through to small barely-known arrangements in farmer's fields. The atmosphere of these places is heavy with a sense of vast time. Here's a wonderful time-lapse video that gives you the feel of these sacred sites; the realisation that the Earth has spun countless times, and all sorts of biological creatures have come and gone, while these stones just sat there as mute witnesses: "Lapse of Memory" by Tony Partington assembles more than 70,000 panoramic high-dynamic range images into a one-of-a-kind viewing experience:

If megaliths interest you, I definitely recommend picking up a copy of the Standing with Stones documentary - an authoritative visual guide that is worth every cent (or penny). The linked website has a number of other sample videos for watching, and there's also a companion book to the DVD which is available from Amazon US and UK.

Atlas Obscura

Here's a great resource for the Fortean travelers out there: Atlas Obscura:

Welcome to the Atlas Obscura, a compendium of this age's wonders, curiosities, and esoterica. The Atlas Obscura is a collaborative project with the goal of cataloging all of the singular, eccentric, bizarre, fantastical, and strange out-of-the-way places that get left out of traditional travel guidebooks and are ignored by the average tourist. If you're looking for miniature cities, glass flowers, books bound in human skin, gigantic flaming holes in the ground, phallological museums, bone churches, balancing pagodas, or homes built entirely out of paper, the Atlas Obscura is where you'll find them.

TDG readers will probably enjoy sections such as "Incredible Ruins" (Baalbek, Gobekli Tepe etc), "Relics and Reliquaries" and "Instruments of Science" (HAARP, Tesla Coils etc) - topics can be browsed on the right hand side of the page. Found via the always fascinating Boing Boing.

Original 'Croppie' Passes Away

The UK's 'sacred landscape' community has suffered another loss, on the back of the death last month of John Michell: Pat Delgado, one of the most influential writer/researchers on the topic of crop circles, passed away on the weekend aged 90. Delgado co-authored the bestselling book Circular Evidence with Colin Andrews, and in doing so introduced many people to the mystery of the 'agriglyphs'. He largely retired from the scene after the 'Doug and Dave' revelations in 1991, in which he was the central 'victim' to pronounce that their faked circle was "genuine". He later said (in 1996) that he had come to the conclusion that the complex patterns should be considered "artistic" man-made designs, rather than hoaxes, but that the truly "genuine" circles "are simple single circles and their history probably goes back thousands of years."

Crop Circles and Black Helicopters

More interesting revelations from this week's release by the UK Ministry of Defence of secret documents pertaining to the UFO subject...though in this case, it is crop circles. One of the mysterious themes propagated (pun not intended) in the crop circle mythos is that of 'black helicopters' being present at the scene of newly-formed glyphs. According to the latest MoD documents released, that was simply the military sight-seeing:

The MoD tried to stop military helicopter crews photographing crop circles for fear that this contradicted the official line that they had no interest in the phenomenon.

In 1991, the Centre For Crop Circle Studies wrote to the MoD, saying aircraft had hovered over fields where the patterns had appeared and on at least one occasion taken pictures. This concerned the MoD so much that they wrote to Army and Navy chiefs, asking them to ensure this did not happen again.

But both services refused, saying they would "not be taken seriously" by air crews if they issued such an edict and suggesting the department was being "over-sensitive towards the UFO lobby".

The documents also reveal a dialogue between the MoD and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher regarding the circles, as well as one strange case in which a circle was said to be formed by four 'bright' whirlwinds (interesting note about the "swishing" sound, given my own research...although in this case that's probably a likely sound with a windstorm in fields of crops).

As mentioned previously, you can download the relevant documents from the website of The National Archives.

Woes & Chants from the Mayan World

This year has been pretty violent here in Mexico, but most of that violence has been related to fights among the drug cartels to gain new territories. However, this news from Associated Press is different; and sadly it rings a familiar bell…

Last Sunday five state police officers were arrested in San Cristóbal de las Casas - a municipality located in the southern state of Chiapas - in relation with a raid to remove protesters that had trespassed a Mayan archaeological site, in which 6 villagers were killed.

These Indian villagers had occupied the entrance to the Chinkultic ruins, that are close to the border with Guatemala. They had stayed there for nearly a month.

Schultes' Photographic Journey

We mentioned earlier this year the new History Channel documentary on the life of legendary ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, narrated by the almost as legendary Wade Davis (trailer here, or you can order the complete documentary on DVD). For more insights into the life of this fascinating man, check out the Smithsonian which is currently hosting an exhibition of his photography, titled "The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Legendary Botanist Richard Evans Schultes":

Richard Evans Schultes, an explorer and botanist, spent much of his career penetrating remote reaches of the Amazon, where shamans taught him the healing properties of plants often unknown to science. In his pursuit of natural pharmacopeia, he imbibed strange brews and snorted potent snuff to personally test the effects, often donning traditional costume and participating in tribal ceremonies. By the time he died in 2001 at age 86, Schultes had documented 300 new species and cataloged the uses of 2,000 medicinal plants, from hallucinogenic vines to sources of the muscle relaxant curare.

Schultes was also a popular Harvard professor, known as the father of ethnobotany for his groundbreaking work examining the relationship between cultures and plants. He inspired a generation of Harvard students to become leaders in botany and rain forest preservation—including Mark Plotkin, president of the Amazon Conservation Team and author of the best-selling Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice. "Here was a guy who went off to the unknown and not only lived to tell about it, he came back with all kinds of cool stuff," Plotkin says. Students remember Schultes' nonconformity; he was known to demonstrate the use of a blowgun by shooting at a target across the classroom. He was also an avid photographer, who recorded many remarkable images on his expeditions.

The small amount of photographs offered on the website are brilliant - many look as if they were taken just days ago, you have to remind yourself that the people in them have aged 50 years or more since it was taken. If you get the chance, make sure you go take a look at this exhibition (h/t David Pescovitz at Boing Boing).

Fresh Moves to Protect Stonehenge?

The British government and English Heritage have asked for public consultation on some proposals to help conserve Stonehenge. Chief among the possible moves include moving the road which runs alongside the iconic site, and also moving the Stonehenge visitor centre.

Lord Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of English Heritage, said: "Stonehenge is the greatest achievement of prehistoric culture anywhere in Europe. "It is inconceivable that the inadequacies of the site should be allowed to continue any longer. "With political will and financial commitment I believe the Government can achieve a breakthrough this time."

The new urgency to protect Stonehenge seems to have been partly inspired by the Olympic Games, which will be hosted by London in 2012. It is expected that the massive influx of visitors for the Games will mean record numbers of tourists visiting the famous megaliths.