Revealing the Secrets of The Stone of Destiny

It was once the stone upon which future rulers of the Scots were crowned. So important was its significance as a symbol of power that in 1296, Edward 1 King of England stole the stone from Scone, Perthshire and placed it under his own throne in London.

There it stayed until rescued by Scottish students in 1950. It was recaptured (or was it?) and taken back down to London where it remained until 1996 when it was brought to Edinburgh.

Today the Stone of Destiny is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) on behalf of the Commissioners for the Safeguarding of the Regalia. HES have been conducting forensic tests on the Stone using a variety of techniques.

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 stone of destiny with a researcher photographing it for the 3 D model
@Historic Environment Scotland

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. 

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. 

Those who scoff at the importance of Stone would do well to visit our many Stone Circles which today still hold a fascination and attraction for people. Scotland’s Stone of Destiny is again to be transported down to London and placed beneath the Coronation throne of King Charles III. It will this time, be returned.

The coronation of King Charles III ( and Queen Camilla) will take place on Saturday 6th May 2023. And for those interested in the power and use of symbolism here is the invitation.

The original artwork for the invitation was hand-painted in watercolour and gouache, and the design will be reproduced and printed on recycled card, with gold foil detailing. Central to the design is the motif of the Green Man, an ancient figure from British folklore, symbolic of spring and rebirth, to celebrate the new reign. The shape of the Green Man, crowned in natural foliage, is formed of leaves of oak, ivy and hawthorn, and the emblematic flowers of the United Kingdom.

Fiona Grahame

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