10 Famous Paranormal Hoaxes

British Crop Circles
This intricate crop circle was made in Wiltshire, England. Far from being the work of aliens, two artists and drinking buddies admitted to making many of them. © Jason Hawkes/Corbis

In the 1980s, a series of increasingly intricate patterns emerged in the barley and wheat fields of surprised farmers in Wiltshire, England. Dubbed "crop circles," the breathtaking, unexplained formations drew crowds of gawking tourists and intense speculation about their origin.

Cerelologists -- as serious crop circle junkies are known -- hypothesized that the circles, which always appeared overnight, were either landing pads for alien spacecraft, coded messages from a higher intelligence or symbols downloaded psychokinetically from the collective subconscious [source: Jenkins]. It helps that Wiltshire is also home to Stonehenge, the original alien art project.

Only Doug Bower and Dave Chorley knew the real story. The drinking buddies and part-time watercolor artists had been making the crop circles by hand -- or by foot, mostly -- since the late 1970s. Fueled by too many pints and a conversation about UFOs, the duo snuck into a farmer's field and stomped out a circular pattern with iron rods, a flat wooden board and some rope [source: Jenkins]. The rest is history.

It wasn't until 1991 that Bower and Chorley confessed their role in the artistic hoax, which by then had grown to include legions of unaffiliated circlemakers across England and around the world [source: Schmidt]. The cerelology community took the news in stride, admitting the possibility that many of the circles were man-made, but ardently defending the most elaborate and beautiful circles as indisputably otherworldly creations.