Some of the United Kingdom's most storied soil was disturbed Monday for the first time in more than four decades as archaeologists worked to solve the enduring riddle of Stonehenge: When and why was the prehistoric monument built?
The excavation project, set to last until April 11, is designed to unearth materials that can be used to establish a more specific date for when the mysterious first set of bluestones was put in place at Stonehenge, one of Britain's best known and least understood landmarks.
The bluestones are the smaller of the large rocks installed at Stonehenge.
The UN World Heritage site, a favorite with visitors the world over, has become popular with Druids, modern-day pagans, and New Agers, who attach mystical significance to the strangely shaped circle of stones. But there remains great debate about the actual purpose of the structure.
The dig will be led by Timothy Darvill, a leading Stonehenge scholar from Bournemouth University, and Geoffrey Wainwright, president of the Society of Antiquaries.
(Related photos: "Stonehenge Builders' Village Found" [January 30, 2007].)
"Not Only Why, But When"
Both experts have worked to pinpoint the site in the Preseli mountains in southern Wales where the bluestones—the earliest of the large rocks erected at the site—came from. The researchers will be able to compare the samples found in Wales to those at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain.
"The excavation will date the arrival of the bluestones following their 153-mile [246-kilometer] journey from Preseli to Salisbury Plain and contribute to our definition of the society which undertook such an ambitious project," Wainright said.
"We will be able to say not only why, but when the first stone monument was built."
Scientists believe the bluestones were first put in place around 2600 B.C. But experts concede the date is an approximation at best.
Those original bluestones were removed about 200 years later. The dig team hopes to find bits of them embedded in the earth.