Calum McLeod writes in the U.K newspaper the ?Independent? about a Chinese researcher who has discovered, close to the Mongolian border, 2,500-year-old stone circles in the same patterns as modern cropcircles.

Zhang Hui, research fellow at the Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi, has discovered more than 20 patterns that appear to match examples found in other countries, but may pre-date them by up to 3,000 years. The Chinese stone circles are clearly man-made. ?The primitive peoples who lived there were inspired by the crop circles they saw,? speculates Zhang. ?They thought the circles were a way of communicating with the gods, and so placed rocks in the shape of the circles.?

Zhang found several circles in the grasslands of Qinghe county beside the Sino-Mongolian border, ranging from simple circles to more elaborate teardrop and other shapes. He was amazed by their geometrical sophistication, and went to Beijing to consult Chinese translations of reference works by British cropcircle researchers. ?I was amazed by the similarities,? he says. ?Both sets show characteristics of modern, industrial civilizations, as you would need modern instruments to make such perfect circles, yet these could be the oldest records of crop circles world-wide. They show that the phenomenon is much older than people thought.?

The region is home to many non-Chinese ethnic minorities, including most of China?s Muslims. Several of Zhang?s stone patterns surround vast piles of stones gathered to commemorate warrior nomads known as the Scythians, an Indo-Iranian people with Caucasian features.

The Scythian conquests were so extensive that Western historians have identified their cultural interaction with the ancient Celts, whose religious sites have been the major locations for crop circles. Researchers like John Haddington of the U.K.?s Center of Crop Circle Studies have noted that circles often appear close to the sacred sites of Celts, Australian Aborigines and Native Americans.

The first publicly recorded crop circle occurred in 1678 in Stirlingshire, Scotland, and became known as the ?Devil?s Circle.? Zhang found a similar pattern in Qinghe, encircling a stone pile and a tombstone with a deer engraving. ?The nomads call it the ?magic circle,? and believe whoever dares to touch the tombstone will offend the gods and be punished,? he says.

Zhang couldn?t have done this research 20 years ago, because Chairman Mao waged war on the ?superstitious? beliefs he thought were holding back his attempts to modernize China. ?During the Cultural Revolution, a group of Red Guards in north-east China saw a crop circle appear in a field in a very short time,? Zhang says. This rare eyewitness account of a formation actually being formed was published much later. ?They were stunned, but at the time, nobody was allowed to believe in such ?superstition.??

Recently, there have been many UFO sightings in China. Zhang doesn?t know what caused the ancient circles. ?It?s too early too say for sure,? he says, ?but there is a definite connection with the cosmos. It could be a supernatural force, or even an alien civilization.?

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