Stonehenge is a British wonder of the ancient world - it's also as familiar a part of our landscape as the White Cliffs of Dover.

By Emma Parkins
BBC Timewatch

April 1, BBC News

It's such an iconic sight, we tend to forget that two fundamental questions remain - when was it built and what was it for?

For hundreds of years, these questions have intrigued and frustrated antiquarians and visitors alike.

Remarkably, in the next fortnight, we might just have the beginning of some answers.

On Monday, the first excavation to take place at Stonehenge in nearly half a century will start.

For Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, this is a truly unique moment: "Very occasionally, we have the opportunity to find out something new archeologically - we are at that moment now.

"We believe that this dig has a chance of genuinely unlocking part of the mystery of Stonehenge."

Irresistible questions

The men behind this historic event are Professor Geoff Wainwright and Professor Tim Darvill.

Between them they have undertaken hundreds of excavations, but nothing so far has compared to this.

"I'd regard it as the summit of my professional career," said Professor Wainwright

"To do an excavation at Stonehenge is very special indeed."

It certainly is. So why are the professors being allowed to dig a hole in this most hallowed of spots?

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photo: Stonehenge is a breathtaking piece of engineering (BBC)