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The massive 8ft 9in (2.46m) wide step, which weighed in at three-quarters of a ton, was of a form found in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. It was a feature of Sinhalese architecture with decoration taking the form of a series of concentric bands decorated with specific common motifs with symbolic meaning centring on a half lotus.

The stone was carved from the outside with: tongues of fire; a parade of animals representing the four corners of the earth; an undulating vine and leaf pattern; a row of swans and bands of petals. Only six other examples from this period are known.

Devon Bungalow

For many years the stone was located at Brackenhill, a house in Crowborough, East Sussex, that was the home of William Murdoch Thyne, a Scottish civil engineer who worked in Sri Lanka from 1915-37. After his death in 1952, the house and temple stone passed to the family of the vendor, ending up in the garden of the Devon bungalow.

The vendor mentioned it to Sam Turk of Bonhams' Exeter office who, on hearing the background story, reckoned it was an object of importance.

It ended up being offered at Bonhams New Bond Street on April 23 with a £20,000-30,000 estimate. Drawing a strong contest, it was taken to a multi-estimate sum by three bidders in the room and eight on the phones and was finally knocked down at £460,000.