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Stirling Castle

Castle (Medieval), Midden (Period Unassigned), War Memorial(S) (20th Century)

Site Name Stirling Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval), Midden (Period Unassigned), War Memorial(S) (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Stirling, Castle Rock

Canmore ID 46245

Site Number NS79SE 6

NGR NS 7900 9400

NGR Description Centred NS 7900 9400

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

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Digital Images

First 100 images shown. See the Collections panel (below) for a link to all digital images.

Administrative Areas

  • Council Stirling
  • Parish Stirling
  • Former Region Central
  • Former District Stirling
  • Former County Stirlingshire

Archaeology Notes

(NS 790 941) Castle (NR)

OS 6" map (1913/38)

For adjacent King's Knot, see NS79SE 7.

NS79SE 6.01 NS 78996 94035 Palace (of James V)

NS79SE 6.02 NS 78984 94096 Chapel Royal

NS79SE 6.03 NS 79044 94025 Ladies' Lookout (forework or bastion)

NS79SE 6.04 NS 79017 94077 Great Hall (Old Parliament House)

NS79SE 6.05 NS 79030 94095 Mint

NS79SE 6.06 Centred 78961 94073 The King's Old Buildings

NS79SE 6.07 NS 7906 9401 Outer Defences

NS79SE 6.08 Cancelled

NS79SE 6.09 NS 79049 94068 Grand Battery, Kitchen Range

NS79SE 6.10 NS 79049 94068 Esplanade, Monument

NS79SE 6.11 NS 79050 94038 Governor's House

NS79SE 6.12 NS 79090 93952 Esplanade, South African War Memorial

NS79SE 6.13 NS 79123 93983 Esplanade, Robert the Bruce Monument (Bruce's Statue)

NS79SE 6.14 NS 78954 94116 Douglas Garden, Sundial

NS79SE 6.15 Centred NS 79234 93937 Married Quarters' Barracks

NS79SE 6.16 Centred NS 78468 93175 King's Park and Boundary Walls

NS79SE 6.17 NS 79064 94043 Regimental Headquarters

NS79SE 6.18 Centred NS 78967 94153 Nether Bailey

NS79SE 6.19 79002 94008 Queen Anne Garden, Sundial

Full description in official guidebook by Richardson and Root.

J S Richardson and M E B Root 1948.

In October 1992, a twelve-day watching brief was held at Stirling Castle in the area of the eastern Counterguard, further to the excavations conducted in the same area earlier in the year. The various holes against the ramp wall and in the casemates of the Overport Battery indicated that the area had been subject to a massive programme of landfilling during the construction of the Queen Anne defences. Further N, the digging of a pipe trench revealed two retaining walls, probably of a similar date to the landfilling. A stone-lined well, filled in the early 1700s, was revealed against the Mary of Guise wall constructed in the mid-16th century upon which the Overport Battery was built. Much Scottish green glazed pottery was recovered, as well as fragments of bottle glass and clay pipe.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

G Ewart 1992.

A programme of fieldwork was concentrated on two areas of the post-medieval defences of the castle in advance of prposed development. Area 1: The Interior of a building variously described as the Cart Shed or Straw Store. Area 2: An extensive area in front of the main 16th century facade and N of the Queen Anne casemates.

Area 1: Excavation Report

After the concrete floor from the interior of the Cart Shed was lifted, a series of soft earth deposits were ultimately removed down to bedrock over most of the area. The finished levels were specified by the required depth from architects' plan, so wherever that level was reached, excavation stopped. The broad phases of activity in this trench can be summarised as: Phase 1: Two apparently independent routes up to castle rock cut in bedrock. Phase 2: Defensive ditch and roadway wall built. Phase 3: Timber building constructed over infilled phase 2 wall and ditch. Phase 4: Straw Store/Cart Shed built. Phase 5: Cart Shed converted by demolition of N wall.

Phase 1

The Castle rock itself is a tightly jointed doleritic sill with pronounced regular bedding planes. Where exposed in Area 1, the bedrock surface showed signs of much weathering and wear (much more pronounced than the bedrock found in Area 2) and apart from efforts to prize sections of the sill apart to create space for Phase 3 timbers, showed sign of particular wear in 2 areas. To the SW of Area 1 two lines of 'wear' apparently evidence of vehicular traffic, were picked up, running down towards the SW. This roadway showed signs of having been levelled up and repaired with mortar rubble, resulting in a full width of 1.6m. Part of an arguably earlier trackway was picked up towards the N of Area1. This took the form of a pronounced gully or rut worn into bedrock, truncated by later ditch and associated wall F.040 and which may well be the southern side of a road, predating the ditch and wall construction of Phase 2.

Phase 2 c 1550-c1670

The S route was retained as main access to the Castle during the period of the pre-Queen Anne rebuilding programme. The creation of the French Spur saw the excavation of a deep ditch to the SE and protecting the main entrance route. Part of the ditch appeared at the NW corner of Area 1, underlying part of the N wall of the Cart Shed. It was cut against bedrock but may well be an enhancement of a natural outcropping. The ditch was tested to a depth of 2m and was not bottomed. A light mortar bonded wall lat across the southern side of the ditch - built directly onto the bedrock. This wall (F.040) was poorly preserved but proved to be 500mm wide and despite being truncated by the N wall of the Cart Shed, ran for a distance of 4.8m.

Phase 3.

The Phase 2 wall was demolished and levelled down to 2 or 3 courses, and its associated ditch was infilled with an homogeneous dump of dark earth and stones. The area was generally levelled up to receive a series of timber pads and post holes, reflecting at least one long wall of a timber building aligned E/W. There were in total 3 positive post holes (F.032, 023, 012) with one possible (F.024) with 2 pads (F.025 and 016). The settings were formed from the rubble infill of a series of crudely excavted areas on the bedrock, following the approximate line of the N edge of the Phase 2 trackway. The post settings were essentially squared voids 200mm by 200mm, and 1.5m apart. There was a possible entrance towards the W edge of the line, between the posts F.025 and F.012, defined by a door post stone (F.019). The role of pads F.025 and more enigmatically F.016 is not clear, and it

may be that the timber settings reflect enclosures rather than roofed structures. In any event, it seems that the Phase 3 timbers were temporary precursors to the Straw Store/Cart Shed which was in place by 1860.

Phase 4

The foundations for the Cart Shed walls were cut against the accumulated floor/occupation surfaces from Phase 3 activity, set within irregular foundation trenches, which varied in width from 150mm to 300mm. The depth of the distinctive shaped foundations also varied- deepening considerably to hit towards the SE, a depth of 1.2m. Once a level footing for the faced masonry was in situ, the floor was laid, characterised by mortar spreads (recycled builders' debris). Then the walls were raised to full height, with an apparent door towards the W end of the N wall. This was reflected by a distinctive recess in the S face of the N wall at this point and an equivalent projection of the N face. This does not admittedly concur with the 1860 plan which shows a centrally placed door in the N wall but no signs of such were revealed in the excavation due to damage in Phase 3.

Phase 5

The present open N wall with squared ashlar pillar was formed by the demolition of the Phase 4 N wall to virtually foundation level and the raising of floor and immediate exterior surfaces by 300mm. This was ultimately concreted over and saw use as a 'garage'.


The significance of the excavation in this area can be summarised as: (1) The identification of late medieval access to the castle truncated by 16th century works. (2) The presence of temporary wooden structures predating mid 19th century cart shed/straw store.

Area 2: Excavation Report

The earliest feature revealed on the site was a cut in the granite bedrock in the NW corner of the trench. The natural cleavage of the rock had been exploited to exaggerate a natural drop or, possibly, in order to create a ditch. The line of the feature respected the early 16th century castle frontage and may be a defensive feature associated with this, or perhaps an earlier phase if this is a raised position.

The excavations uncovered a length of the wall built during the regency of Mary of Guise c1559 (shown on Slezer's 17th century plan). This ran S from the section excavated in the late 1970's.

Presumably there must have been a certain amount of landfill between this wall and the early 16th century frontage, but these deposits were not reached before the required depth of excavation.

The Mary of Guise wall was used as the foundation for the battery defences built between 1708 and 1714 during the reign of Queen Anne. It seems likely that the battery wall and casemates were built almost free standing - certainly no foundation trenches were noted. The ramp wall leading down into the area was also built in this phase. Once the lower courses of these structures were laid, material was dumped against them to secure them and to raise the level of the area in general.

The original base levels of the ramp and casemate walls was indicated by the quoins uncovered reflecting a ground surface approximately 1.5m below that of the modern one.

On the 1725 plan of Stirling, the ramp wall is not shown, although the structural details are exactly the same as those of the casemate corners. However this plan shows the battery wall and the casemate extending further than they do today. There is evidence for this on the site - although not for a 2-floor barrack. A well-constructed mortared square plinth F127 was found which was inline with the casemate frontage and exactly the width of an arch from the surviving casemates. The lack of demolished wall, signs of bonding to the battery wall or remnants of vaulting suggests that the end structure was for a different purpose - possibly an outhouse for large pieces of equipment such as artillery or carts.

It is not known for how long the Queen Anne battery and casemates were used in their original form, but at some point (or points) before 1860 the layout of the area radically changed. The end casemate was demolished and the ramp wall was foreshortened. A long subdivided lean-to (three foundation piles for which were excavated) was placed against the early 16th century castle frontage and another built where the end casemate stood. The whole ground level for the area was raised by approximately 1m including within the casemates. The ramp down into the area was raised and formed by the considerable dumping of rubble given a smoother surface by the use of mortar. Cobbles/sets may also have been used over this.

However, by the late 1860's the lean-to against the 16th century frontage had been demolished, the casemates were contractors stores and the lean-to on the site of the demolished end casemate was used as an engine house. This structure was used until 1991 when it was demolished. The access routes and general ground levels in the area remained much the same as in the 19th century, the only real changes being the laying of electricity and telephone cables and the late 1970's excavations.

Thus, despite the slightly unpromising nature of the area to then be excavated, features dating from the late-medieval period onwards were uncovered, the history of the use of the Mary of Guise and Queen Anne period defences elucidated the survival of early 18th century deposits (and their contents) confirmed.

Sponsor:Historic Scotland

G Ewart 1992.

A series of small-scale excavations and watching briefs were completed between March and May 1993 as part of the major ongoing programme of rebuilding and upgrading at the Castle. The results of this most recent fieldwork can be summarised in terms of the four areas of the Castle effected.

1. The Overport Battery Casemates and Trance

(part of the new restaurant development)

During the removal of 19th and 20th century levelling deposits a remnant of a defensive line, predating the Queen Anne works, was discovered in Casemate 1.

2. Guard Room Square

Beneath elements of the southern Queen Anne defences, slight evidence of the earlier southern access route on to the site was traced in the form of worn and weathered bedrock.

3. The Lower Square

During the excavation of a series of pipe and service trenches, water conduits - both for drainage and water supply, were found, the earliest of which dated to the Queen Anne rebuilding programme. Also, some crude stonework with associated midden deposits, were discovered towards the SE of the Great Hall. These features are provisionally dated to the late 15th/early 16th century and represent levelling up, whether casual or deliberate, over the steeply shelving bedrock to the E of the Great Hall, down to the North Gate.

4. The Queen Anne Battery Casemates

The interiors of four of these chambers were cleared of 19th and 20th century infill, down to primary (early 18th century) occupation levels. Evidence of wooden floors and large squared hearths in each was found, all of which were later obscured by the raising of the floors throughout the range towards the middle of the 19th century.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

G Ewart 1993.

NS 790 940. Limited excavation was completed at the E end of the Chapel Royal, while floors were removed in advance of comprehensive repairs. The findings of the excavation within the late 16th-century chapel, comprised a massive series of tipped deposits containing quantities of demolition debris, midden deposits and construction debris up to approximately 5m deep, laid to create a floor base for the Chapel Royal. The probable northern wall of the preceding chapel as refurbished by James III and IV was found running diagonally across the interior of the later Chapel Royal. This wall, along with the wall defining the W side of the 'Transe' (which gave access to the Great Hall of James IV) defined an (open?) area between the earlier chapel and the outer curtain. Access to this area was via a well-formed doorway leading into the Transe, but which was blocked when the infilling process began when the Chapel Royal was built (1580-94).

Quantities of bronze slag along with firebricks were found in the lower tips within the Chapel Royal, apparently evidence of a demolished metal working complex. Large quantities of animal, bird and fish bone along with a good assemblage of pottery (mainly jugs and cooking pots) were found among the midden tips, generally towards the bottom of the series.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

G J Ewart 1994

Ns 790 940 Excavation in the Chapel Royal and Lion's Den continued in the autumn of 1994 in advance of restoration and renovation. Work in the Lion's Den (the inner quadrangle of the 16th century Palace) revealed evidence of contemporary or later activities associated with the Palace. However, fragments of masonry were found in the extreme SE corner of the area, which relate to earlier 16th century buildings, but which were recycled for use in the present layout (built during the 1540s).

Elsewhere, a substantial retaining wall was found towards the S side of the Lion's Den, which appears to have defined the southern limits of the quadrangle layout. This in turn was probably formal and decorative, possibly some sort of parterre arrangement. The polygonal-shaped building discovered in previous excavations and located towards the middle of the area retained by the low S wall, along with a drain or sump lying towards the NE corner of the area, may have been integral to the formal layout. These were heavily altered and damaged by later occupancy of the Palace block. Certainly the polygonal building was used as a cistern serving 19th century lavatories.

In general the extent of damage to the 16th century layout was such as to have almost entirely removed most features and surfaces predating the extensive pipe laying and resurfacing activities of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the Chapel Royal, the excavation begun in the summer of 1994 continued to bedrock, removing the remaining tips of debris which had been deposited as levelling for the floor of the Chapel Royal (built in 1594). This exercise resulted in a trench over 5m deep, the lower fills of which contained considerable amounts of firebrick and metal slag, apparently evidence of a demolished forge or foundry. Elsewhere within the Chapel Royal, traces of two earlier structures were found, one of which is assumed to be the late 15th century precursor to the 1594 chapel, and which in turn had truncated a smaller, as yet unidentified rectangular lime mortared stone building.

In the Mint, the unblocking of two large fireplaces was monitored- the larger in the N wall, with the second in the E wall. Both of these massive features, thought to date to the late 15th century, had been much altered from the 17th century onwards, with relatively little surviving of primary hearth surfaces.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

G Ewart and P Sharman 1995.

NS 7990 940 In advance of the re-roofing of the Chapel Royal, a programme of excavation was mounted over December and January of 1994-5 in the Upper Square and Douglas Gardens within the Castle.

The Upper Square: Two trenches were opened in the Upper Square. The earliest structure found was the SE corner of a stone building. This was formed by a SW-NE wall and its return, extending NW. The SW corner of the same building was seen in the 1994 excavation inside the Chapel Royal. This structure was aligned NE-SW. It measured c13.1m NE-SW and was at least 4m wide, although the northern limit was not seen.

A large amount of charcoal, ash and metalworking debris was recovered in the upper layers associated with the usage of this building, perhaps suggesting that the latest occupation was industrial. However, it may be that the building was originally an earlier version of the Castle Chapel, predating the 15th century Chapel.

The second phase of activity involved the construction of the 15th century Chapel, parts of which were also revealed throughout the trench, showing it to be at least 29m long and some 9m wide, aligned ENE-WSW.

The discovery of drystone structures within the levelling material prior to the construction of the 15th century Chapel suggest that it had two building phases, the first involving a crypt which was filled in at a later date to stabilise the masonry above, probably part of the documented 1505 repairs.

The other major structure studied in the Upper Square was the present Chapel Royal, known to date to 1594. A complete pottery vessel was found standing upright in the construction trench for the S wall of the Chapel. This pot was almost identical to vessels recovered from beneath the floor of Innerpeffray Church in Perthshire, these examples having been dated to the period 1508-1650.

There were at least eighteen different masons-marks noted on and around the string course of the S Chapel wall.

The Douglas Gardens: A total of six trenches were opened in the Douglas Gardens. The earliest remains comprised part of a wall aligned SE-NW, comparable to structures in the Upper Square, and finds recovered from this period of activity seemed to indicate an early-mid 14th century date for its demolition.

Built on top of this early wall was a retaining wall with a bank behind (to the W of) it. This revetment may have incorporated part of the earlier wall, which had by this stage been partially demolished. The bank seems to have stood to a height of c1.3m, and finds from its surface indicate late 15th-early 16th century activity.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

G Ewart and A Radley 1995.

NS 790 940 Fieldwork during summer 1995 concentrated mainly on excavation in the Upper Square, over and immediately adjacent to the late 18th-early 19th century cistern, which lies to the W of the Great Hall Transe. Further work comprised the monitoring of the excavation of a series of 11 small pits to receive information boards. One of these holes, located in the Queen Anne Gardens, revealed a lime-mortared wall, possibly that shown on the 17th century plan by Slezer. The remaining holes revealed little of archaeological significance, aside from levelling material.

The earliest features revealed in the main excavation comprised a series of occupation surfaces, truncated during the construction of the cistern. These deposits were only revealed in a narrow strip, on average 1m in width, but represent a complex series of early medieval occupation horizons. The medieval occupation is most obviously characterised by a hearth-site, which in turn probably relates to a series of crude structural timber settings, and floor surfaces. Overlying this sequence of deposits were tip-lines and courtyard levels associated with the construction, occupation and demolition of the 15th century Chapel Royal.

The Transe wall was built in two phases, the upper section relating to the vaulting-over of the Transe itself during the later 16th century.

The cistern was revealed in its entirety, showing it to be 15.5m long N-S by 4.25m wide, and of high quality sandstone construction. It had been much altered and repaired since its original construction, affecting both its supply and capacity, and access to it. The capacity of the tank was c120m3 (c26,400 gallons), and it was intended to provide water in the event of fire.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

G Ewart and P Sharman 1995.

NS 790 940 Excavation within the Great Hall comprised the recording of a series of cross-walls dating from the later 18th century conversion of the Hall to barrack accomodation. These walls sub-divided the ground floor into four chambers, with two staircases leading to upper floors. The walls themselves were of massive lime-mortar construction, and two of them featured flues serving fireplaces within the vaulted basement.

The Great Hall floor was recorded in detail, and evidence of both its original pattern and its subsequent damage to receive later floor surfaces and modifications to the internal arrangement of the Hall was noted. It appears that the pattern of floor slabs reflected some sub-divisions within the Hall as completed during the early years of the 16th century.

In addition, two trenches were excavated in advance of the re-roofing of the Great Hall. Of these trenches, one lay to the S of the Hall, and contained considerable deposits of charcoal, alongside pottery of 14th and 15th century type. The second trench was cut at the base of the E wall of the Palace. The excavation of this trench was curtailed by the presence of modern services.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

G Ewart and A Radley 1995.

NS 790 940 A series of excavations were undertaken at Stirling Castle by Kirkdale Archaeology during 1996-7, as part of the ongoing refurbishments to the buildings in the Upper and Lower Squares.

W wall of the Great Hall

Three 1sqm holes were opened against the W side of the Great Hall, on top of the transe vault. Surviving patches of harling on the wall of the Great Hall provided samples for analysis. The top of the transe had been revealed before in excavations.

Army kitchens

Two small rooms were investigated in the E end of the building used as the army kitchens between the S end of the King's Old Buildings and the NW corner of the palace. The aim was to reduce the levels in these rooms by approximately 0.8m in order to provide an access route from the palace porch via a currently blocked doorway into the range. The grey stone paving slabs were removed by a Historic Scotland squad.

It would seem that up to almost 1m of deposits survive below the floor of the army kitchen range, including important information about the medieval castle. The presence of graves indicates that the shell of this building may, despite its later appearance, be that of the other chapel at the castle, possibly that used for private worship by the monarchy, situated as it is between the King's Old Buildings and what is thought to be the site of the queen's lodgings.

The Transe

An excavation was undertaken within the transe on the W side of the Great Hall, with the intention of excavating to bedrock and recording the structure itself. The uncovering of setts in the S part of the transe meant that the brief was changed in order to leave the surface in situ.

The features in the transe fell into seven basic phases, the first one being that which encompassed the worn surface of the bedrock and the surviving patches of surfaces earlier than the transe wall, giving some idea of what the ground surface was like when the Great Hall was constructed at the end of the 15th century. It may be that the lower doors and the window were visible giving an added impression of height to the Hall. It is possible that the W transe wall was built at the same time as the Great Hall, in order to support the lean-to roof which ran along its W side. No evidence was found for the method of access to the main door of the Great Hall. It is assumed that a bridge across the unroofed transe to the door is the most likely solution, although the Chapel Royal prior to the upstanding building would have blocked this access somewhat. The surface of the transe floor yielded no evidence for a staircase against the face of the Hall.

The fourth phase was that of the E-W transe added to the N side of the Great Hall, with a lean-to storey on top, presumably done at some point in the 16th century. The uncertainty of the structural sequence at the N end of the transe possibly reflects a complicated sequence of construction and adaptation of upstanding structures in order to support the range and/or the later vestibule built to connect the Great Hall and the Chapel Royal in the 17th century. There is evidence of a blocked door in the return of the Great Hall and the vestibule in the Upper Square, a feature which would probably have been reflected structurally in the transe. The vaulting of the transe must have happened prior to this and almost certainly before the new Chapel Royal was built at the end of the 16th century, because the chapel takes account of the raised level of the Upper Square.

Many of the features in the transe belong to phase 6, the period of the army's occupation of the castle. The doorways into the Hall were blocked up and turned into windows, new doors were inserted, cobbled and flagged surfaces laid, services introduced and so on, reflecting the need to turn a royal residence into a functioning garrison. Features belonging to the 20th century reflect the patching of damage done during the previous phase and the use of the castle as a heritage resource.

Area between the Upper and Lower Squares

Historic Scotland wished to adjust the shape of the ramped access between the Upper and Lower Squares to take account of the threshold levels of the doors into the transe and Great Hall basement respectively which had previously been exposed by archaeological excavation. Kirkdale Archaeology were engaged to reduce the existing level to provide a base for a new road surface. The bedrock proved to be generally too high for the proposed base level and the whole area was cleared to bedrock rather than the levels initially required.

During the excavation, it was decided to reroute the existing services along the line of a storm drain running parallel to the E face of the palace. The previous cut was reopened and adapted, during which several archaeological features were noted.

A narrow trench (2-3m wide) was initially opened along the N face of the palace before being ultimately widened to meet the S face of the Upper Square retaining wall and below the bridge between palace and Great Hall. The earliest features encountered were interpreted as an oven and a hearth, and were dated to the 15th century. These were overlain with a crudely metalled surface dated to the 16th century, although it was unclear whether this deposit was earlier or later than the palace building.

Monitoring of the re-excavation of a storm drain trench

The most striking feature identified in a second trench was the massive wall base. This had been previously recorded and its line is preserved in the pattern of setts of the present courtyard surface as with the lines of early chapel walls in the Upper Square. This feature seems too solidly built to be merely a domestic structure and, if the N-S wall is the foundation platform for the palace, is most likely to be an integral part of the Fair Front or the earlier defences.

A midden deposit was of interest because it did not appear to be specifically domestic in origin but perhaps more likely to be associated with stable or byre waste.

The evidence clearly confirms surprisingly high archaeological potential within the Lower and Upper Squares where the natural profile of the bedrock can preserve relatively deep deposits of occupation material together with structural remains.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

G Ewart, A Radley, P Sharman and J Triscott 1997

NS 790 940 A fragment of carved, fine grey sandstone, possibly a capital of a pilaster is visible on the left side of the rear of the fireplace of the room called 'The King's Guard Chamber', in the James V palace.

C A-Kelly 1997

NS 7888 9412 About 82m E of where it breaches the earlier wall from the castle to the garden, the upper path along the SW slope of the castle rock cuts a spread of mortar and debris. This extends for almost 100m, and includes bone and oyster shell among mostly modern pottery and glass, with some sherds of green-glazed white gritty and grey gritty ware, continental imported ware and pipe stem fragments of 17th-century type.

NS 7903 9403 Built into the inner face of the NE curtain wall, just above the walkway, just N of The Mint, appears to be a capital of a pilaster, built in upside down.

C A-Kelly 1998

Architecture Notes

NS79SE 6.01 78996 94035 Palace

NS79SE 6.02 78984 94096 Chapel Royal

NS79SE 6.03 79044 94025 Forework

NS79SE 6.04 79017 94077 Great Hall

NS79SE 6.05 79030 94095 Mint

NS79SE 6.06 78961 94073 The King's Old Buildings

NS79SE 6.07 79068 94007 Outer Defences

NS79SE 6.08 Cancelled See NS79SE 7

NS79SE 6.09 79049 94068 Kitchen Range

NS79SE 6.10 79110 93928 Esplanade

NS79SE 6.11 79050 94038 Governor's House

NS79SE 6.12 79090 93952 Princess Louise's CXI Battalion South African War Memorial

NS79SE 6.13 79123 93983 Bruce Statue

NS79SE 6.14 78954 94116 Sundial

NS79SE 6.15 79234 93937 Married Quarters

NS79SE 6.16 78468 93175 Kings Park

NS79SE 6.17 79064 94043 Regimental Headquarters

NS79SE 6.18 78967 94153 Nether Bailey

See also:

NS79SE 7 78896 93646 King's Knot

NS79SE 21 79261 93808 Argyll's Lodgings


NMRS Printroom - Inglis photograph Collection

acc no 1994/90

2 prints showing view from King's Knot

1 close view of castle


'Master masons of Scotland', Vol I, p.3, 46 and 47

The Castle of Stirling (from catalogue slip)

Is under the charge of the Commissioners of H M Works

The National Library of Scotland holds a series of original drawings (many are coloured) of the Board of Ordnance, relating to the years of the 18th century before and after the Jacobite Revolutions of 1715 and 1745, Reference 'MSS. 1645 - 1652'

The drawings include, from Case or Volume, 1645, the following:

Number Year

Z.2/23 1708 'A Plan of Sterling Castle to scale of 16 Feet to an Inch and a profile of Elphinstone's Tower and French Spur to a scale of 20 Feet to an Inch. Docketted as 'Design by Capt. Drury, Anno 1708.' There are 2 copies.'

Z.2/16 No date Old Plan docketted on back 'Sterling Castle with Design'. There is no scale

Z.2/16 No date Old Plan of 'Sterling Castle' Scale 30 Feet to an Inch. Bears the name of T Drury, Fecit.

Z.2/17 1709/10 'The Royal Apartments in the Palace of Stirling Castle' Docketted on top as 'Ground Floor of the Palace at Stirling Castle' Scale 20 Feet to an Inch, dated 1709/10

Z.2/18 1719 Four Sheets of General Drawings, numbered 1 to 4, of Sterling Castle, 1719, with References. Sheet No 2 shews the Plan of the Great Hall, Section and C, to scale of 10 Feet to and Inch. It is signed by Thos Moore.

Z.2/19 1725 'A Plan of the Town and Castle of Sterling 1725', With References. Scale 250 Feet to an Inch. Bears the name of John Laye. There is also a copy.

Z.2/20 No date Another Plan of the 'Town and Castle of Sterling' to the same scale

Z.2/21 1740 'A Plan of the Town and Castle of Sterling, 1740' WIth References. There are 2 copies, both dated 1740.

Z.2/22 1741 Four sheets of General Drawings of Sterling Castle, numbered 1 to 4. Scale 10 Feet to an Inch. Date 1741.

There is also in Case or Volume, 1650, the following drawing:

Z.46/58 No date 'Sterling Castle. Plan of the Governer's Apartment(s). Scale 12 Feet to an Inch.


Erection of a stone dyke about the garden and repairs to Stirling Castle.

Copy of royal letters

1638 GD 124/11/12

Letter concerning the state of the roof of Stirling Castle. The Privy Council authorised the E. of Mar to have it repaired.

1687 GD 124/11/37

Windows of Stirling Castle. Two fragments of a warrant for the glazing of part of the castle. Sent by the Lord Commissioners of the Treasury to Sir William Bruce, Surveyor General.

1674 GD 1/51/52

Letterhead bears a small cameo motif. Letter from 'Granny' to John Murray.

No date (c.1855) GD 189/2/923

Fire at Stirling Castle in that part known as the Old Palace, in which the celebrated Douglas situated', newspaper cutting

1855 GD 189/2/1012/3

Description of the Parliament Hall of Stirling Castle. Letter from William Stirling to Sir John Clerk.

1741 GD 18/5013

Report on Stirling Castle. What James Smith has said of Holyrood is even more applicable to Stirling with the addition that the platforms and embrasures are all ruined, the half being all broke down with the flashes of powder and the others rotten, having been made only of fir deals many years ago.

1707 GD 124/15/471

Repair of the roof of Stirling Castle. Letter to the Earl of Mar from the Privy Council. He is authorised to have the roof repaired.

1687 GD 124/11/37

(For James Smith's report on Stirling Castle see under Edinburgh)

1707 GD 124/15/471

Repairs to Stirling Castle. Copy of royal letters.

1638 GD124/11/12

Repair of Stirling Castle. Letter from the Earl of Seafield to the Earl of Mar. He explains that it is difficult to obtain money for repair work.

1700 GD 124/15/207/3

Stirling, St James Fort

A plan for unbuilt fortifications proposed N of Stirling Bridge (NS79SE 2) is held in the National Archive (formerly the Public Record Office. Planned by Major Marlin Beckman in the late 17th century, the proposed fort would have rested on 'the left bank of the Fort' (Dunbar and MacIvor, 1965) the exact location of which is not known. Information from RCAHMS (D.E.), February 2004.


Topographical collection - 3 engravings dating from 18th century


Publication Account (1978)

The first mention of the castle at Stirling occurs in the dedication of a chapel there by Alexander I (ESC, 1905, 146). At the end of the thirteenth century it was acknowledged to be one of the premier fortresses in the kingdom, the focal point of much activity during the Wars of Independence. It was the Stewarts, particularly those from James II until VI, who favoured Stirling as a royal residence.

Most of the principal buildings of the castle date from the sixteenth century, although some fourteenth- and fifteenth-century work survives. The fortifications and batteries which form respectively the inner and outer defensive barriers on its south east side date from the eighteenth century (RCAHM, 1963, 42). The Great Hall and the Palace are two buildings which command great interest. Completed by James IV, the Great Hall (also known as Parliament Hall) is a massive structure measuring approximately 126 feet (38m) by thirty-six (Um) and rises to a grand height of early fifty-four feet (16. 46m) (RCAHM, 1963, 42). The interior of the building was greatly mutilated in the eighteenth century when the structure was converted into military barracks, although restoration is currently underway. 'In contrast to the Great Hall, which is perhaps the finest achievement of late-Gothic domestic architecture in Scotland, the palace is an essay in the new manner of the Renaissance' (RCAHM, 1963, 42). Erected in the reign of James V, the Palace on plan was originally a hollow square comprising four ranges of buildings of which only three survive. Among its most noted Renaissance features are the grotesque and human statues which embellish its exterior. The Chapel Royal erected in the reign of James VI also is of some interest as it was one of few ecclesiastical buildings erected in Scotland at this period (RCAHM, 1963, 211).

Information from Scottish Burgh Survey, ‘Historic Stirling: The Archaeological Implications of Development’, (1978).

Publication Account (1985)

Stirling Castle owed its importance in the medieval period to a combination of a crucial strategic position and a strongly defended natural fortress. Because it lay at the lowest bridging point of the River Forth, it commanded both major north-south and east-west land routes and its possession was vital to anyone seeking military control of eastern Scotland.

Although the site of the castle has probably been occupied more or less continuously since prehistoric times, and is on record as an important royal stronghold from the 12th century, the majority of the surviving remains date from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The late medieval castle lay around the highest part of the hill and comprised a massive curtain wall with square corner towers and a centrally placed twin-towered gatehouse (largely built about 1500). Within the enclosure formed by the curtain wall, there is a magnificent group of royal buildings reflecting the frequent use of the castle as the residence of the Scottish could in late medieval times.Principal among them are the Palace, Great Hall and Chapel Royal. The Great Hall is the ea rliest of these buildings, being contemporary with the curtain wall, and completed in the opening years of the 16th century. In form it is a typical medieval hall but built on the grand scale, outsizing Edward IV's Great Hall at Eltham and Hem), VIII's at Hampton Court. Unfortunately, it was badly mutilated in the 18th century and is now slowly being restored. While the inspiration for the Great Hall looked back to the middle ages the Palace, built only a generation later (between 1540-42), heralds the arrival in Scotland of the Renaissance style of architecture, and is witness to the renewed contacts between Scotland and France at this time. It is remarkable for the treatment of the exterior, particularly the sculpture; the interior, however, has been much altered and all that survives of the original fittings is a series of carved wooden medallions (known as the Stirling Heads) which once decorated the King's presence chamber. The Chapel Royal was built in 1594 for the baptism of Henry, the eldest son ofJames VI, and it is reputed that the best workmen were brought from all over the country to complete the work.

During the later 17th century considerable improvements were made to the north-west defences with the enclosure of the Nether Bailey, and within the castle the King's Old Buildings and the Grand Battery were erected. In the 18th century, following the Act of Union, an extensive programme of works was begun to improve the castle's defences. Between 1708-14 the outer defences were remodelled to take account of advances in artillery, and three large batteries were installed behind a broad ditch, the bottom of which was protected by a caponier (see also Craignethan Castle, no. 32). The castle remained an army barracks until 1958 when it passed into the care of the state, and the HBM (SDD) are now in the process of making good many of the alterations carried out to the castle in the later 18th and 19th centuries.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Clyde Estuary and Central Region’, (1985).

Excavation (13 October 1997 - 14 November 1997)

NS 790 940 An excavation was carried out in October to December 1997 to complete an investigation commenced by trial trenching in the spring of 1997. The area under investigation comprised the Army Kitchens, also known as the Governor's Kitchens, situated in a building on the W edge of the Castle Rock, overlooking the King's Knot (Ewart, Radley, Sharman and Triscott 1997)

The purpose of the excavation was to remove all deposits below the modern floor level in the kitchens down to bedrock or undisturbed archaeological horizons worthy of retention.

Early plans and maps show clearly the existence of the building at various times from the later 17th century onwards, and it is thought that a building has stood on the site since before the 15th century, and possibly from as early as the 12th century, the chapel of Alexander I, built c 1115.

The excavations revealed three phases of activity connected with a chapel site, alongside a well-preserved paved courtyard area. Ten inhumations were excavated, comprising nine adults and one child, as well as a charnel pit. The chapel evidence was overlain by a level containing evidence for the building of an oven and furnace, and by the 18th-century building levels.

Dating evidence was not forthcoming on a large scale, and the historical context of the buildings provides the main interpretive framework for the archaeological evidence presented below. Of particular significance in this regard are the dates spanning 1530-40, during which time the new Palace of James V was being erected, requiring the partial demolition of the earlier building; and the dates around 1710, at which time the Palace was converted to serve a Castle Governor, again affecting the adjoining building to a large extent.

The E room produced the earliest masonry in its SE corner, and this was interpreted as either an early chapel element or a part of the structure to the S of the Army Kitchens. The clearest early structure was a massive sandstone wall running below the present S wall for a distance of 7m. This is interpreted as the surviving remnant of the early chapel, pre-dating the 1530 building programme, but whose absolute date is uncertain. Associated with this early structure were some of the aforementioned burials, aiding the interpretation of the former as part of the chapel site.

At a later date the chapel was resited to the E by a distance of around 5m. A new threshold was laid, and the area to the W was carefully paved over, the paving extending for some 7m as far as a working area to the SW, where it could be seen to cut the earlier surface. Drainage channels in the surface of the paving intimate that it was an exposed area. This second chapel was also disturbed by the creation of the new Palace in 1530, and yielded a single inhumation. The creation of the Palace destroyed around two-thirds of the chapel structure.

The remaining available space comprised the formerly external paved area, defined to the N, S and W by a perimeter wall, and this space became the new chapel after the erection of the Palace. A single inhumation was excavated in the area toward the N wall. This is thought to be the final chapel on the site, falling out of use some time in the 17th century.

The chapel space was then converted to an oven or furnace area. The paved floor of the final chapel was removed, with further mortar debris and chapel debris being added, sealing the bodies beneath the new floor. A fire of some form was then centrally placed on this surface, surviving as a large, circular burnt area in the centre of the floor, measuring some 4m in diameter, with four massive stone plinths set some 3m from the centre of the fire site. These either represent support for a furnace, or support for a modified roof to allow the use of the fire within the room, or both.

As late as 1680, the date of Slezer's illustration of the castle, it would appear that the chapel site survived as a single structure, but by Dury's plan of 1709 a new building occupied the E part of the chapel site. This survives today as the tall square building adjacent to the Palace. The modifications enacted on the third chapel structure at this time involved the realignment of the S wall and the addition of a new W wall, effectively dividing the former space into two equal-sized areas. These two rooms later became the Mess Kitchens and associated quarters, woth chapel structures sealed beneath 150mm of concrete flooring.

Sponsor: HS

G Ewart and D Stewart 2000

Measured Survey (April 2010 - June 2010)

NS 7900 9400 A proportion of this very large group of stones was given a very brief survey during April–June 2010, before being cleaned and placed in storage. The stones were removed during work on the King’s Hall at Stirling Castle, and many were recorded in an illustrated catalogue by Nick Bridgland. In such a large collection it is not surprising to find much duplicated material, especially, in this case, corbels. Other pieces included water drainage troughs and saddles, an elaborate section of a window sill, window mullions, and a fragment of a miniature ribbed vault, probably from inside a small canopy.

This listing and other inventories of carved stones at Historic Scotland’s properties in care are held by Historic Scotland’s Collections Unit. For further information please contact

Funder: Historic Scotland

Archetype, 2010

Excavation (1 March 2010 - 10 February 2011)

NS 7906 9404 (centred on) A programme of archaeological work was undertaken 1 March 2010–10 February 2011 as part of improvement work being undertaken in the Guard House Square. The work focused on the demolition of the Straw Store and construction of a new ticket office.

Guard House Square represents the main entrance to the Castle within the outer defences of 1714. It was originally built as an open square, with a defensive wall to the S along the cliff edge and to the E against a rock cut ditch, with a further ditch and inner wall to the N and W separating this area from the rest of the castle. Buildings were then built along its edges, with a Gun Shed built against its S wall by 1806. This was demolished and replaced by the Cart Shed (still standing) by 1858. Small ancillary structures built against the Cart Shed’s E wall were then replaced by the Straw Store, which is present by 1898. The original Straw Store occupied the N end of the E side of the Cart Shed, but in the 1950s an extension was appended to the S, between the Straw Store and the S wall of the castle. Other structures in square include a stables block and coach house just to the E of the Straw Store built against the E wall and a guard room in the NE corner.

A plan of 1708 shows the area immediately prior to the construction of the defences of 1714. This indicates that while the walls to the E and S are new, those to N and W follow similar alignments to the earlier (mid-16th-century) defences. A pyramidal spur projects out from these earlier defences, occupying the NE corner of the current square, with a probable ditch running around its S side. The entrance road to the castle is shown swinging around to the S of this ditch, running along the cliff edge to the S, and swinging back around to the N, with its projected path running right through the Straw Store and Cart Shed.

The following describes the sequence of fieldwork in terms of a series of stages, each reflecting a change in the focus and character of the work.

Stage 1 (1–19 March 2010) – Excavation and standing building recording Trench 1 was excavated against the E side of the Straw Store. Evidence was found for one of the ancillary structures built against the Cart Shed before the Straw Store, and a sequence of dumped, probable levelling layers was excavated, all post-dated or were contemporary with the 1714 S wall. A detailed drawn, photographic and written record was made of the external (N and E) walls of the Straw Store.

Stage 2 (23 November 2010–13 January 2011) – Standing building recording and watching brief A rapid photographic and written survey, using annotated sketches rather than formal drawings, was made of the inside of the Straw Store. This revealed details such as the partial survival of a window in the E wall of the Cart Shed (matching a surviving one in its W wall), and the blocking of a fireplace in the S wall of the Straw Store. An intermittent watching brief was then maintained during the demolition of the Straw Store. Details of the Straw Store’s construction, such as the use of massive blocks for aperture surrounds, and the incorporation of a cast iron chimney flue in its S wall were recorded.

Stage 3 (14–27 January 2011) – Excavation During this stage Trench 2, which occupied the footprint of the mostly demolished Straw Store was excavated. The wall of the ancillary structure split this trench into two halves. To the S post-1714 soil dumps were encountered. To the N infill surrounded exposed bedrock. The removal of the infill revealed fragmentary deposits that incorporated a wall line, running roughly NW–SE, with a probable ditch edge on its N side, and bedrock close to the surface to its S. The N face of this wall had been covered by a fine lime plaster at some stage.

Stage 4 (28 January–3 February 2011) – Excavation A deeper service track was excavated across the N end of the site, just to the E of the exposed section of wall. This exposed the continuation of this wall to the E, albeit at a lower height, which led to a request to lower the whole E side of the N end of Trench 2. The removal of later levelling deposits allowed the services to be placed without causing disturbance to the wall. A third trench was also opened up to the E of the S end of Trench 1 against the S wall of the castle, to accommodate a manhole. The trench contained services, deep infill deposits, which post-dated the castle wall, and revealed the drop in bedrock to the S and E.

Stage 5 (4–10 February 2011) – Excavation A service track (Trench 4) was dug N for 18.5m across the Guard House Square from the N end of Trench 3 to an existing manhole at the SE corner of the Guard House. The damaged remains of masonry, possibly the remains of the Spur, were recorded on a northward sloping bedrock terrace. A 0.3m drop at the S end of the bedrock may represent the N edge of the putative ditch found in Trench 2, and suggesting that the ditch was c7m wide.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology, 2011

Watching Brief (11 February 2011)

NS 7916 9395 (centred on) A watching brief was carried out on 11 February 2011 during the excavation of a trench for a fibre optic cable. Although nothing of archaeological interest was recorded, the area remains of interest due to its proximity to the castle and the fact that the remains of post-medieval and potentially medieval buildings can be seen preserved, as façades, in some of the nearby path and road boundary walls.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology, 2011

Watching Brief (31 May 2011 - 14 June 2011)

NS 7905 9401 (centred on) A watching brief was carried out 31 May–14 June 2011 during the installation of five information boards. In order to minimise impact to the potentially important historical surfaces discovered in some of the trenches, where practical, the current sign bases were reused for the new boards.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology, 2011

Information also reported in Oasis (kirkdale1-123796) 23 April 2012

Watching Brief (11 December 2012 - 12 December 2012)

NS 7922 9387 A watching brief was carried out, 11–12 December 2012, during the excavation of two trenches on the approach road to Stirling Castle, which runs up the SE side of the Esplanade. The trenches were dug to allow the replacement of the traffic bollards. No finds or features of archaeological significance were recorded.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Paul Fox, Kirkdale Archaeology, 2013

(Source: DES)

OASIS ID: kirkdale1-311448

Project (February 2014 - July 2014)

A data upgrade project to record war memorials.

Watching Brief (11 February 2014 - 14 February 2014)

NS 7914 9394 A watching brief was maintained, 11–14 February 2014, during the excavation of two trenches on the esplanade of Stirling Castle, one for the footings of a new ticket office and the other for a new bicycle rack, both located towards the E side of the esplanade, immediately to the NE of the E boundary wall. The deposits revealed suggested that the ‘natural’ approach to the castle lay towards the NE side of both trenches. The sloping profile of the natural bedrock and till appeared to define the SW side of the route, the profile now largely ‘fossilised’ in the present cobbled road up the to the site.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

John Godbert – Kirkdale Archaeology

(Source: DES)

Note (11 March 2016 - 18 May 2016)

Stirling Castle occupies a commanding vantage point in the middle of the Forth Valley and is assumed to have been an early medieval caput, though no trace of earlier fortifications or occupation have been discovered beneath the castle itself. Angus Graham correlated Stirling Rock with urbs Giudi mentioned by Bede (1959), and this identification has been pursued more recently by Leslie Alcock (1981). Though the correlation is not necessarily universally accepted, in all probability Stirling Rock is the site of an early medieval fortification, and, like the Castle Rock in Edinburgh, is likely to have been occupied much earlier.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 18 May 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC4228

Standing Building Recording (16 November 2016 - 24 August 2017)

NS 7900 9403 (centred on) A programme of standing building recording was undertaken, 16 November 2016 – 24 August 2017, on the roof of the Palace at Stirling Castle ahead of repair work to chimneys. It had been established that three of the chimneys were in such a poor state of repair that they would have to be partially taken down and rebuilt. A detailed photographic record was made of each chimney, and at least two sides (and usually all four sides) were drawn and a plan made of the chimney head. Fourteen chimneys were recorded in detail.

Traces were seen of crowsteps within the uppermost reaches of the E range, suggesting the substantial survival of a pre-palace structure up to the roof line under much of the E range.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Historic Environment Scotland

David Murray – Kirkdale Archaeology

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Standing Building Recording (23 August 2017)

NS 7898 9407 Standing building recording was undertaken, on 23 August 2017, on a section of the lower external eastern façade of the King’s Old Buildings. The façade contained a window which was to be removed during conversion into a doorway.

This is a complex structure which been subject to considerable modification over the last five centuries. The insertion of an additional floor required significant alteration to floor levels and subsequently to the external façades. The fire in the N quarter led to a massive rebuild and it is here that we see the introduction of the distinctive roll-moulded and chamfered surrounds with pecking. It would appear that the introduction of this style of aperture led to the replacement of the door and window surrounds at ground floor level within the portion of the building which includes the area under examination.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Historic Environment Scotland

Paul Fox – Kirkdale Archaeology

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Watching Brief (21 February 2017 - 24 February 2017)

NS 7902 9396 and NS 7903 9402 A watching brief was maintained and excavation undertaken, 21–24 February 2017, during small scale excavation work within the Queen Anne Garden. This is a level area, with a raised terrace at its N end occupied by grass and flower beds. The excavation in the SW corner of the garden (NS 7902 9396) showed evidence for bedding material for cobbles, with no dating evidence beyond the fact that they post-date the stairs, which are presumed to be early 18th century.

Examination of the masonry surrounding the five test pits (NS 7903 9402) suggests that none of it dates to the 16th-century construction of the nearby wall and tower, and is unlikely to predate the late 17th-century siege, and may in fact reflect even later reworking.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Historic Environment Scotland

David Murray – Kirkdale Archaeology

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Geophysical Survey (30 January 2017 - 31 January 2017)

NS 7900 9400 (NS79SE 6) Three areas within Stirling Castle were investigated, 30–31 January 2017, with ground penetrating radar (GPR) as part of a wider evaluation of the castle as part of a television programme. The primary area surveyed was the Douglas Garden, with smaller surveys undertaken within the Upper Square and the Queen Anne Gardens.

Douglas Garden occupies the highest point of the castle rock and as such has potential for evidence of an earlier castle, and may also contain other structures and possibly remnants of earlier garden features. A small survey (c12 x 10m) was carried out in the SW corner of the Upper Square.

This survey aimed to identify possible remains associated with an early chapel. A further small survey (c30 x 7m) was also carried out in the NW corner of the Queen Anne Garden, but this had to be curtailed due to adverse weather. The GPR results from Douglas Garden were dominated by responses from modern paths and services. A very well defined linear anomaly and apparently associated rectangular response were detected in the centre of the survey area, possibly indicating structural remains. However, these anomalies are only 0.20–0.45m below the surface suggesting they may have, at least in part, a modern origin such as a path. However, they do mark a clear divide in the nature of response across the area with weaker reflections being recorded in the W, suggesting the possible limits of the historic gardens. Within this western area possible postholes and associated trends have been noted which could be indicative of an earlier castle structure, but such an interpretation is extremely cautious.

The data from the Upper Square are dominated by responses from a surface drainage channel, sunken spotlights and buried services. Unfortunately, given the strong nature of these responses, it is likely that weaker responses from archaeological features, if present, were being masked. It is also possible that, given the postulated structural remains lie below cobbles and above bedrock, there is insufficient contrast to adequately detect potential archaeologically significant remains.

The data collected from the Queen Anne Garden was dominated by a broad linear anomaly, assumed to be due to a drain or similar feature.

Archive: Rose Geophysical Consultants

Funder: Windfall Films

Susan Ovenden – Rose Geophysical Consultants

(Source: DES, Volume 18)


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