Crop circles emerge in Western Cape wheat fields

29 August 2018 - 14:36 By Dave Chambers
Crop circles 100m in diameter planted in wheatfields by the N2 in the Overberg to mark the centenary of agricultural studies at Stellenbosch University.
Crop circles 100m in diameter planted in wheatfields by the N2 in the Overberg to mark the centenary of agricultural studies at Stellenbosch University.
Image: Stellebosch University

Crop circles have reached the Western Cape.

But the two 100m-diameter examples that have emerged in Overberg wheat fields are definitely not the work of aliens.

Landscape artist Strijdom van der Merwe planted the circles with wheat and canola‚ and they have become increasingly visible from the N2 near Caledon thanks to winter rainfall.

The works‚ which are called The Earth and explore “the fragile interaction between humans‚ nature and agriculture”‚ were commissioned to mark the centenary of the Faculty of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University.

Professor Danie Brink‚ dean of the faculty‚ said the landscape art contributed to the conversation about the contribution and relevance of agriculture. “We wanted to display this visually with Strijdom’s help.”

Van der Merwe‚ who grew up on a farm near Johannesburg and studied at Stellenbosch‚ said: “I have always wanted to create my own crop circles among wheat fields. The faculty made this dream possible by helping to prepare the soil and sponsoring the seeds.”

Crop circles 100m in diameter planted in wheatfields by the N2 in the Overberg to mark the centenary of agricultural studies at Stellenbosch University.
Crop circles 100m in diameter planted in wheatfields by the N2 in the Overberg to mark the centenary of agricultural studies at Stellenbosch University.
Image: Stellenbosch University

He used an ancient symbol that appears in many of the world’s ancient rock engravings in this artwork. “The symbol – a circle with a cross in it – is considered one of the earth’s oldest known symbols‚” he said.

The circles were particularly inspired by thousands of rock engravings containing the symbol at Driekopseiland‚ near Douglas in the Northern Cape.

“The almost 4‚000 engravings documented on a rocky outcrop in the Riet River at this site are mostly abstract or geometrical petroglyphs [art that has been chiselled in rock]. These engravings are only visible when the water level is low‚” said a Stellenbosch University spokesman.

Van der Merwe said the origin of the symbol was a mystery despite decades of study and speculation. “Some say that people from other continents were the engravers. Others reckon it had something to do with the mythical water snake or rituals related to when young girls reached puberty.

“Whatever the meaning‚ this open-air gallery is probably one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

“We have now used this symbol in a modern-day agricultural context. This living installation will change colour with the seasons‚ turning from green to yellow and brown. This represents the cycles of nature and life.”

The quarters of the symbol also represented the natural elements of fire‚ water‚ air and soil. “These elements are central to agriculture and the landscape artist’s work‚” Van der Merwe said. “In agriculture‚ everything relates back to the soil‚ whether you have livestock or plant wheat.”

He said he was excited to see how the project unfolds over time. “Land art‚ like farming‚ harnesses the earth and the elements. It involves a long and patient process. It all depends on nature.

"We will only be able to see the entire picture in September when the canola will hopefully have an extravagant display of yellow flowers. If that does not happen‚ it is also part of the process.”

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