IT is a strong face, a powerful male face, the face of a warrior. But is it the face of a king? More specifically, is it the face of King Robert the Bruce?

Historians will no doubt argue about the matter for ages to come after they were yesterday confronted with the digitised face of King Robert I following a painstaking reconstruction based on the near 200-year-old cast of a skull found in the remains of the king’s tomb in Dunfermline Abbey.

Using the latest technology, two versions of the face of the victor of Bannockburn were produced – one without leprosy and one with the signs of leprosy, with historians still split on whether or not the greatest of all Scottish kings had the disease, though the skull cast showed signs of it.

The National:

According to a joint statement from the project teams at Glasgow and Liverpool John Moores University, “one image depicts the subject in his prime, a large and powerful male head that would have been supported by a muscular neck and stocky frame – a match for the super-athletes of today.

“This was a privileged individual who enjoyed the benefits of a first-class diet, and whose physique would have equipped him for the brutal demands of medieval warfare.

“The second image reveals that strength co-existed with frailty. The skull exhibits likely signs of leprosy, disfiguring the upper jaw and nose.”

There is strong circumstantial evidence that the skull belonged to Robert the Bruce, as it was found among the remains of the magnificent black and white marble tomb of the king that was smashed during the Reformation riots of 1560.

The tomb was rediscovered during excavations in Dunfermline Abbey in 1819, and a cast taken of the skull was held in the Hunterian Museum of Glasgow University.

The reconstruction was carried out by Professor Caroline Wilkinson, Director of Liverpool John Moores University’s Face Lab, who is a world-renowned craniofacial identification expert. Her team was responsible for reconstructing the face of England’s King Richard III after his remains were found in a car park in Leicester.

The project was initiated and led by Dr Martin McGregor, senior lecturer in Scottish history at Glasgow University, who was directly inspired by the case of Richard III.

“I was aware of previous attempts to recreate the face of the skull linked to Robert the Bruce,” he said.

“The case of Richard III revealed how far the technology had advanced. I saw an opportunity to apply the technology to the Hunterian skull held here at Glasgow: first to test the credibility of its connection to Bruce, and then to try to add to our knowledge of Scotland’s greatest king.”

Professor Wilkinson said: “Using the skull cast, we could accurately establish the muscle formation from the positions of the skull bones to determine the shape and structure of the face. But what the reconstruction cannot show is the colour of his eyes, his skin tones and the colour of his hair.

“We produced two versions – one without leprosy and one with a mild representation of leprosy. He may have had leprosy, but if he did it is likely that it did not manifest strongly on his face, as this is not documented.”

The colouring of the King’s hair and eyes is guesswork as no DNA samples exist to allow a proper assessment of how they would have appeared.

Dr MacGregor said: “After the excavation [in 1819] the original skeleton and skull were sealed in pitch and reburied, but not before a cast of the head was taken. Several copies of the cast exist, including the one now in the Hunterian, but without the original bone we have no DNA.

“The Hunterian also holds a piece of toe-bone said to have come from the same grave, and not returned to it. We had hoped to try and obtain DNA from this and test it against a living descendant of Robert the Bruce, but the bone would probably have been destroyed in the process.”

Professor Wilkinson added: “In the absence of any DNA, we relied on statistical evaluation of the probability of certain hair and eye colours, conducted by Dr MacGregor and his team, to determine that Robert the Bruce most likely had brown hair and light brown eyes.

“There have also been a number of advances in facial reconstruction techniques since previous depictions of this Scottish hero, including better facial feature prediction and more advanced CGI.

“This is the most realistic appearance of Robert the Bruce to-date, based on all the skeletal and historical material available.”