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5 April 2023

Research shines new light on the Stone of Destiny

Innovative methods have revealed new information, including previously unrecorded markings and further evidence of the Stone’s provenance

Member of the HES Digital Documentation & Innovation team digitally scanning the Stone of Destiny at Edinburgh Castle

Innovative methods have revealed new information, including previously unrecorded markings and further evidence of the Stone’s provenance 

Cutting-edge digital technologies and scientific analysis have revealed more of the story of the Stone of Destiny, the ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy which has long held fascination and intrigue due to the mystery of its earliest origins. 

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) - who care for the Stone of Destiny on behalf of the Commissioners for the Safeguarding of the Regalia - have been carrying out the work at the Engine Shed, Scotland’s national building conservation centre. This is part of their role to prepare the Stone for the Coronation of King Charles III at Westminster Abbey in May, where it will be placed in the Coronation Chair for the ceremony. 

A new digital 3D model of the Stone has been created, allowing the Stone to be viewed from different perspectives in higher detail than ever before. This has revealed previously unrecorded markings on the Stone’s surface, which have the appearance of Roman numerals. The digital imaging has also improved visibility of the geological features of the Stone, such as cross-bedding, which is indicative of the geological conditions in which the sandstone was formed and which is characteristic of sandstone of the Scone Sandstone Formation. The many tooling marks evident from original working of the stone and areas of wear and tear can now also be seen more clearly, as well as further details of the 1951 repair. 

The digital scanning has also been used to create an exact scale 3D printed replica of the Stone, which has been used to help preparations for placing the Stone in the Coronation Chair. 

Ewan Hyslop, Head of Research and Climate Change at HES, 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, which 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 markings 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.”

Harnessing a wider range of forensic techniques than available in the past, new scientific analysis has also uncovered additional information about the Stone. This has enhanced the results of the previous investigation in 1998, when fragments from the Stone underwent detailed examination by the British Geological Survey. This work identified the Stone as being indistinguishable from sandstones of the Scone Sandstone Formation, which outcrop in the area around Scone Palace, near Perth. 

The new examination has provided further evidence for the Stone’s origins, while also unearthing more of its post-quarrying history. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis was undertaken to determine the elemental composition of the Stone, leading to the discovery of traces of copper alloy on the top surface of the Stone that coincide with a dark stain near its centre. This suggests a bronze or brass object has been in contact with or placed on the Stone at some time in its history. 

Microscopic traces of gypsum plaster were also found to be present, infilling pores in the sandstone at various places around the Stone, possibly traces of a plaster cast that was taken some time in the past. 

Ewan continued: “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, and 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 Stone of Destiny will be included in the Coronation of King Charles III, where it will be placed within the Coronation Chair for the ceremony, before returning to Scotland. 

A number of different teams within HES, with a range of specialist expertise, are involved in preparing the Stone for its move to Westminster Abbey for the Coronation, working in partnership with the Conservation team at Westminster Abbey. 

The 3D digital model of the Stone of Destiny is available to view on Sketchfab

About Historic Environment Scotland (HES) 

  • We are the lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. We will lead on delivering Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment, Our Place in Time.
  • Historic Scotland, Scran, Canmore, The National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP), The Engine Shed, Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle are sub-brands of HES.
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Claire Mullaney
Historic Environment Scotland Media Office

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