STOLEN and repatriated, damaged yet revered - millions of years of history sit in invisible layers around this hunk of sandstone. 

At heart of British monarchical tradition, the Stone of Destiny is a well documented mystery with a past that includes legends of Biblical Judea, thefts by ancient kings and university students, bombed by Suffragettes and rumours of it being replaced by a substitute.

A new chapter has now been added to the Stone's history as cutting-edge digital technologies and scientific analysis, including created a 3D printed replica of the Stone, have revealed more of its story.

Sophia Mirashrafi is Senior Digital Innovation Officer on the digital documentation and innovation team at Historic Environment Scotland (HES).

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Her team is responsible for making 3D documentation of HES's 336 properties – everything from Edinburgh Castle to standing stones and cairns and all that's in between – as well as documenting some 40,000 artifacts.

Mirashrafi, who came to Scotland from Oregon 10 years ago to study and stayed on, has a clear passion for her job.

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"We have lots of 3D data being accumulated," she says, "Which is cool in and of itself, but then we do cool things with them - we make 3D models, we create virtual reality for places that are not accessible to folks, and then we also do 3D printing."

The 3D printing of the Stone of Destiny is pretty cool too, but also serves an additional practical purpose.

For the first time in 70 years, the Stone will be used for its intended purpose - as a symbolic necessity in the crowning of a new king in Westminster Abbey.

In what is a closely guarded secret with almost no details being made public, the Stone will be moved to London from Edinburgh Castle ahead of King Charles's coronation in May, and carefully placed into the Coronation Chair.

The choreography of the move will be practised repeatedly to ensure a safe and smooth transition, and it will be greatly aided by having a 3D model of the stone for use in the practice runs.

As Mirashrafi demonstrates the 3D virtual model of the Stone, she describes the object – a solid 24 stone of greyish-pink rock – as "stunning".

"For me," she says, "It's stunning because of the layers of stories, of myths and legends that have been applied to this one particular object and stories that you can see on its face.

"If you move the model in a certain way you can see tool marks and not just one tool mark but multiple tool marks - who did that?

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"You then look at it from a different perspective and you can see the geology of the stone – where did the stone come from, what's the deep history of its geology?

"And then there's the social history, the stories applied to the stone, and that adds another layer of beauty to it."

While its documented history spans around 800 years, the Stone is a sandstone of the Scone Sandstone Formation, which makes it of Early Devonian age. That is, around 400 million years old.

It's seen a lot in its time. 

Digital imaging has also given greater clarity of the geological features of the Stone, including cross-bedding, which is characteristic of sandstone of the Scone Sandstone Formation and means it would have been hewn from close to Scone Castle. 

Thousands of photographs of the Stone were taken with a DSLR camera that are then fed into specialist 3D software that stitches the images into a 3D model. 

The work of Mirashrafi's team builds on work done by previous researchers in 1998, when fragments from the Stone underwent detailed examination by the British Geological Survey.

Using the 3D imaging, Mirashrafi shows how experts – and school pupils, students, the curious – can apply different lighting effects and zoom in to better see the tool marks on the stone all created by "different hands, different craftspeople, different tools".

She adds: "A 3D model doesn't preserve the stone, it doesn't negate conservation work or taking care of it in the future but what it is, is a snapshot in time of how the stone was when it was documented and that is absolutely a part of its story as well.

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"In an industry that is filled with so many delicate objects being able to handle and touch 3D print is really powerful for interpretation and accessibility for education."

Famously, in 1950 a small group of Scottish Nationalist students from the University of Glasgow snuck into Westminster Abbey and stole the Stone, dragging it across the Abbey's floor on a Mackintosh coat.

Despite their reverence for the importance of the Stone, our amateur thieves dropped it, breaking a chunk off one corner.

They organised for it to be repaired the following year and the 3D rendering shows how carefully this repair was done on top – but underneath the patch has been done with a different material and far less delicately. 

The 3D printing has also uncovered some previously hidden and undocumented secrets of the Stone, including Roman numerals that hadn't been recorded previously. 

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 and it is thought these could be traces of a plaster cast that was taken some time in the past. 

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Mirashafi's colleague Rachael Dickson, regional collections manager for Edinburgh, looks after the collections at Edinburgh Castle, as well as other properties in the Edinburgh region. 

She talks about a rectangular carving on the top of the Stone that was begun at some point in its history but never completed, possibly due to a fault in the stone and fears of causing more damage.

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Dickson said: "It might be that this rectangular shape marries up with that staining. 

"My colleagues think might have been a receptacle for a holy relic - we just don't know but it's an exciting time to look at these different theories and understand how this stone has been used throughout its history.

"Though the monarch would sit directly on the Stone and that rectangular shape could have been for a cushion." 

Dickson's remit is the care and conservation of the Stone and she facilitated access to the object for the 3D scanning work, which took place in the Throne Room of Edinburgh Castle.

She is tight lipped on the Stone's removal to Westminster Abbey but explains that it is a purely administrative move and will have no public or ceremonial element.  

In spring next year Dickson will be saying farewell to the Stone as it moves to another new home at Perth City Hall and will form a centrepiece to a new arts and heritage centre there. 

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HES - which cares for the Stone of Destiny on behalf of the Commissioners for the Safeguarding of the Regalia - has been carrying out the work at the Engine Shed, Scotland’s national building conservation centre. 

For anyone curious to see more, the 3D digital model of the Stone of Destiny is available to view online on Sketchfab. 

Mirashafi adds: "Is she beautiful? I don't know. 

"In archaeology you spend a lot of time with things that don't look grand immediately but when you see these tool marks it does start to become beautiful because of the stories it holds."