Scans of the “Stone of Destiny” ahead of the Coronation of King Charles III have revealed hidden markings on the surface of the artefact. The stone — which is made of a red sandstone — has been used for centuries in the coronations of the monarchs of Scotland. In 1296, the stone was seized by Edward I and brought to England, after which it was also incorporated into the coronations of the monarchs of England, and the wider UK. Indeed, it is presently being prepared for the upcoming Coronation in May, during which the stone will be placed in the Coronation Chair for the ceremony before returning to Scotland. The Stone is presently cared for by Historic Environment Scotland on behalf of the Commissioners for the Safeguarding of the Regalia.
In the study, which was conducted at the “Engine Shed”, Scotland’s national building conservation centre, researchers created a new digital reconstruction of the Stone.
This high-resolution model revealed previously unrecorded markings — which “have the appearance of Roman numerals” — carved into the Stone’s surface. The team are unclear, however, exactly what the markings mean.
The imaging has also improved the visibility of the geological features of the Stone, such as cross-bedding, layering within the rock at an angle to the main bedding plane that is produced by flowing water.
Cross-bedding, the researchers note, is characteristic of the Scone Sandstone Formation from which the Stone of Destiny is believed to have been carved.
This formation was deposited by river action in the early Devonian epoch, around 419.2–393.3 million years ago, and outcrops today in the area around Scone Palace, near the Scottish city of Perth.
Alongside this, the model provides a clearer view of the tool marks created by the original working of the Stone — as well as subsequent sections of wear and tear, and evidence of the repair to the Stone undertaken in the early 1950s.
This was undertaken by the Glaswegian stonemason Robert Gray after the Stone was revealed to have been broken into two by a suffragette bombing in 1914.
The damage, however, was only discovered after the stone’s removal from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950 by four Scottish students set on returning the Stone to Scotland.
The Stone was subsequently left on the altar of Arbroath Abbey on April 11, 1951 and returned to Westminster two weeks later.
However, the Stone did make a proper return to Scotland in 1996 at the behest of the British Government. Following a handover by Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, the Stone was placed in the Crown Room of Edinburgh Castle alongside the Scottish Crown Jewels.
Historic Environment Scotland’s Head of Research and Climate Change, Dr Ewan Hyslop, said: “It’s very exciting to discover new information about an object as unique and important to Scotland’s history as the Stone of Destiny.
“The high level of detail we’ve been able to capture through the digital imaging has enabled us to re-examine the tooling marks on the surface of the Stone.”
This, he explained, “has helped confirm that the Stone has been roughly worked by more than one stonemason with a number of different tools, as was previously thought.
“The discovery of previously unrecorded marking is also significant, and while at this point we’re unable to say for certain what their purpose or meaning might be, they offer the exciting opportunity for further areas of study.”
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The researchers’ new analysis of the Stone has also helped to reveal more information about the Stone of Destiny’s origins and its post-quarrying history.
For example, X-ray fluorescence analysis of the Stone — undertaken to determine its elemental composition — revealed traces of copper alloy on the top of the artefact that coincide with a dark stain on its surface.
This, the team explained, suggests that an object made of either brass or bronze was once in contact with or placed on the Stone at some point in its history.
Analysis also detected microscopic traces of gypsum plaster within pores in the sandstone at various locations around the surface of the Stone. It is believed that these were left behind at some point in the past when a plaster cast of the Stone was taken.
Dr Hyslop added: “The scientific analysis we’ve been able to undertake using cutting-edge techniques that weren’t previously available to us have offered some intriguing new clues to the history of the Stone.
“We may not have all the answers at this stage, but what we’ve been able to uncover is testament to a variety of uses in the Stone’s long history and contributes to its provenance and authenticity.
“The Engine Shed is one of very few places within the heritage sector globally to offer this kind of cutting-edge digital and science work.
“We’re delighted to be able to demonstrate the potential of these methods to enhance our understanding of such an important piece of our past as the Stone of Destiny.”
The digital scan has also been used to create an exact, 3D-printed replica of the Stone, which has been used to help prepare for the upcoming coronation.
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