Help the National Museums of Scotland Solve A 3000 Piece Puzzle from 800 AD In 3-D

Oct. 9, 2013 3:26pm Liz Klimas

Putting together a historic stone broken into about 3,000 fragments is a daunting task, which is why the National Museums Scotland is hoping online gamers might be able to help them.

Cadboll stone

A portion of the Hilton of Cadboll Stone is intact but the rest, which was recently discovered, is in more than 3,000 pieces. A museum had a hospital use a CT scanner take 3-D images of the pieces in the hopes that software and crowd sourcing could virtually piece them back together. (Image source: Wikimedia)

The Hilton of Cadboll Stone, which was carved around 800 AD after a Scottish group known as the Picts converted to Christianity, has suffered multiple accidents, according to the National Museums Scotland :

At some point the stone was toppled and broken, possibly in a storm in 1674, and the bottom portion lost. In 1676 the original carving of the Christian cross was chipped off and replaced with an inscription commemorating a local man, Alexander Duff, and his three wives.

From the 17th to the mid 19th centuries, the stone remained by the chapel at Hilton of Cadboll. For much of this time it lay with the original Pictish carving facing down.

In the 1860s the MacLeods of Cadboll took it to Invergordon Castle and installed it as a garden ornament.

The base of the stone was recently found along with 3,000 broken pieces at a chapel and will be displayed in a new exhibit. But officials are also taking CT scans of the pieces and uploading them into a software program, hoping the public can help them put it together again — digitally.

“We need techy-savvy people who have the mindset and understanding of how to work with 3D objects which are a form of virtual reality in space. It’s that puzzle-solving mind we need,” Mhairi Maxwell with NMS told the Scotsman .

“Archaeologists are always working with fragments, but it is extremely rare to find over 3,000 fragments at the base where the stone originally stood. The fragments range in size from small pieces of 3cm diameter to big chunks which are 15cm to 20cm in length,” she continued.

Take a look at this simulation showing how the puzzle-solving software works:

Hamish Torrie, who works with the  Glenmorangie Company’s whisky distillery that uses some of the stone as a logo, told the Scotsman “it’s great that modern technology can be used to piece together the mysteries of the past.”

“The digital aspect means that people can go online and help solve this ancient puzzle,” Torrie said.


The project will be available for puzzle-solvers to try starting October 25.

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