29/05/2014 08:30 BST | Updated 29/07/2014 06:59 BST

Solving the Mystery of Stonehenge

Many of us will recognise the odd arrangement of large rocks that cast looming shadows across the Wiltshire countryside as Stonehenge - an ancient monument shrouded by myth and mystery.

Despite being one of the most recognisable landmarks in not only the UK but also the world, our knowledge of how this prehistoric piece of history came to be is limited.

There have been many conflicting theories to explain how Stonehenge came to be, including alien invasions or magical interventions. A definite reason to explain the origin of the monument is yet to be identified, and the mystery keeps attracting more visitors each year - in fact visitor numbers increased by 18.9% from 2012 to 2013.

So how close are we to solving the mystery of Stonehenge?

Origins

It is suggested that the first phase of erecting Stonehenge began around 3,000BC - the full stone circle was estimated to have been completed in 2,300BC.

Recent discoveries have also proven that Amesbury, the town where Stonehenge is located, is the oldest settlement in Britain with archaeological analysis finding that the area has been continually occupied since 8,820BC. This therefore indicates the home of the Stonehenge as where British civilisation and history may have begun.

The research that confirmed this information of incredible historical importance was conducted by researchers from the University of Buckingham, and the team believe that they may also have an answer to who may have been responsible for building the monument.

Previous theories had suggested that Stonehenge was built by European migrants travelling through the country but this new evidence of a sustained community in Amesbury contradicts this. David Jacques, who was part of the research team, believes the new finds support the idea that people were staying in one place where they built and worshipped monuments, including Stonehenge.

This information provides a clearer insight into when the Stonehenge was built, but not so much as to why.

A cause for celebration

A recent study seems to have cracked the case as to why the Stonehenge was built - the discovery of bone fragments suggest that it started life as a burial ground which then evolved as a gathering point for people from across the country.

Professor Mike Pearson from University College London says examination of a settlement close to Stonehenge found that it hosted a community that reaches highs of around 4,000 people.

This local community has led the researchers to believe that monuments (including Stonehenge) were built as a way to bring people from across Britain together. Examination of animal remains showed that slaughters increased at the same time as the winter and summer solstice periods, suggesting that people gathered together at the monument to celebrate at that time.

These solstice celebrations still attract thousands of visitors each year - over 20,000 visitors flocked to the monument found in the fields of Wiltshire to celebrate the 2013 summer solstice.

The future of Stonehenge

Despite these discoveries there is still some way to go in confirming the exact history behind Stonehenge.

A paper published by academic H.H Thomas in 1923 stated that the "blue stones" that Stonehenge is constructed from originally came from a hill named Carn Menyn in Pembrokeshire. However geologists recently conducted further tests which show that the stones are more likely to have come from a different hill called Carn Goedog - a mile away from Carn Menyn.

Archaeologists have been examining the Carn Menyn site for the past 90 years in the hope of pinpointing any signs to indicate where the stones are from and how they were removed.

Current theories suggest that the stones were either cut and transported by humans or moved naturally during rock movements in the Ice Age. Further examination of this new location away from Carn Menyn could finally put the last pieces of the Stonehenge puzzle together.

For those who want to know more about the mystery behind Stonehenge, a new visitor centre has been built thanks to a £27 million investment. One of the key features is the reconstruction of a Neolithic man based on a skeleton that was found near the site, which will give a more realistic insight into who was involved in the construction of one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the world.