The elaborate Hindu meditation symbol carved in a southeastern Oregon desert last summer probably was made by UFOs and not a band of Iowa artists, a science professor claims.

James Deardorff, a research professor emeritus at Oregon State University, alleged the government concocted a "cover story" with Iowa artist Bill Witherspoon and five others to explain the quarter-mile-wide symbol."Their story doesn't make any sense. I wonder if the government took them out and told them what to say, where they camped and how they did it," Deardorff said this week.

Deardorff retired four years ago from teaching in the university's Department of Atmospheric Sciences. He said he now looks into the "UFO phenomenon" full time.

Witherspoon said in a telephone interview there is nothing mysterious about the huge shri yantra symbol he and others dug in a dry lake bed north of the Alvord Desert.

"No, it wasn't aliens. It was just some guys," the Fairfield, Iowa, artist said.

Mark Armstrong, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Burns, also denied that the government tried to hide the truth about the Hindu symbol.

"There is no connection between any so-called UFO activities and this drawing that Witherspoon and those with him did," Armstrong said. "We are fully satisfied that we got to the truth of the matter."

Witherspoon said he and five companions laid out the intricate design using an old garden cultivator, 12 miles of twine, survey stakes, a tape measure, a pair of binoculars and a blueprint.

The design was discovered by an Idaho Air National Guard pilot during a training flight Aug. 10. The discovery wasn't revealed publicly until mid-September, however.

Witherspoon later came forward to claim the work. The BLM fined him and his group $100 for defacing public land.

Deardorff said he wasn't convinced after studying a videotape of the symbol and studying With-erspoon's account.

"My concern in this is that some group in some branch of our government is behind this in doing their best to keep the citizenry from connecting the ground pattern to the patterns in the wheat in southeast England, for example, because of the reported UFO association with the latter," he said. He was referring to unexplained large circles and other geometric shapes that appeared in England last spring and summer.

Deardorff was suspicious about a number of elements in Witherspoon's story, including the fact that the drawing supposedly was discovered just a day after it was completed but wasn't reported until about 40 days later.

"Why that big delay?" he asked. "The time was there for them to build up a cover story."

He also didn't believe that the artists could have drawn such a perfect symbol, with its neat, uniform furrows, with an old cultivator. And he questioned whether the artists could have worked in the 90-degree desert heat for 10 days without running short of water.

Deardorff also wondered about the lack of footprints around the symbol. Witherspoon said a rainstorm washed them away.

Deardorff asked why the artists didn't explain why they chose the ancient meditation symbol. "It's as if they want to stay away from any discussion of the symbol," he said. "I can't see anything in the confession letter that rings true."

Deardorff has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the BLM to get Witherspoon's address, and said one of his associates plans to closely question the artist.