THE so-called Bruce Seals may not have been used by King Robert the Bruce at all, but they are still important to the history of Scotland.

That was the admission by Minister for Arts John Glen as he placed a temporary export bar on the two-part seal matrix to provide an opportunity to keep it in the country.

The seal matrices associated with Dunfermline Abbey are at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £151,250 but experts are not convinced the matrices are dated from the early 14th century.

The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) told the Arts Council of England and Wales, which deals with all such export issues, that the British Museum’s experts could not state for definite that the matrices were the ones which the king had ordered for Dunfermline Abbey, where he was buried after his death in 1329.

The committee reported: “It was agreed that it was not possible to confirm or discount the possibility that the seal under consideration was a medieval object, commissioned by Robert the Bruce on July 10, 1322.

“The lack of a corpus of comparable objects, impressions or casts which date from before the seal matrix’s rediscovery in the 19th century and the inconclusive nature of the scientific analysis undertaken by the British Museum made confident association with Robert the Bruce’s commission for Dunfermline Abbey impossible.”

Some experts believe it could be a later replica of a lost original from the late Middle Ages – more study is needed to date it exactly, which is one of the reasons why the export bar is being maintained.

The front is engraved with St Margaret, Dunfermline Abbey’s founding saint, and the reverse bears the royal arms of Scotland.

It carries an inscription that translates as “Robert, by the Grace of God, King of the Scots”.

The sale of the rare items – a private collector from outwith the UK bought them in auction in December 2014 – was branded “shameless” and led to accusations of “asset-stripping”.

At the time, Dunfermline historian Sheila Pitcairn told the Press: “It’s very sad. They really belong to Dunfermline and it is so important that we have them here. We have to accept the fact that they are in private hands.

“There are lots of antiquities in Dunfermline and something we should have had was these seals.

“It’s a great pity but there’s nothing we can do about it. We need to hang on to our unique heritage and we here in Dunfermline feel the loss.”

The artefacts were thought to date back to 1322 when they were commissioned as the mark that would recognise the authority for collecting customs granted to the abbey and Bruce.

Even if it is a later copy, it is still a major historical artefact, according to the RCEWA.

Mr Glen said: “This incredibly rare item is of outstanding significance to the study of seals and is all the more fascinating for its potential association with Robert the Bruce. I hope that a buyer comes forward to help keep this unique object in the UK so we may learn more about its history.

“The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the RCEWA administered by The Arts Council. It was previously subject to an export deferral in 2016, which was suspended to allow new information about its history to be considered.”

RCEWA member Leslie Webster said: “This remarkable two-part seal matrix is unique and, if it indeed dates to the reign of Robert the Bruce (1306-1329), it is an item of outstanding importance as one of the few objects directly associated with his reign, a decisive period in the history of the Kingdom of Scotland.

“An alternative possibility, that it might be a later copy of a lost original, does not diminish its considerable significance for the study of medieval seal-dies, and opens up new avenues of research.

“The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the seal’s outstanding significance to Scottish antiquarianism and sigillography (he study of seals).”

The decision on the export licence application for the seal will be deferred until November 24.

This may be extended until February 2018 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £151,250.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The King Robert the Bruce of Scotland and Dunfermline Abbey Cokete Seal is of outstanding historical significance to Scotland and we welcome the temporary move to stop export of this important cultural object.”