2.3.4 Other recording efforts

A single, unified corpus which covers all early medieval sculpture of Scotland to a consistent standard at least as ambitious as that of the Welsh corpus remains a pressing desiderata. However, opportunistic, uncoordinated efforts to adequately record Scotland’s early medieval carved stones have continued apace. Although the programme of RCAHMS county inventories was abandoned, subsequent diverse publications by RCAHMS have prominently featured early medieval stones, e.g. North-East Scotland (RCAHMS 2007a), Canna (RCAHMS 2008a), Angus (RCAHMS 2008b) and Brechin (RCAHMS 2007b). The RCAHMS’s recording of early medieval sculpture in the Western Isles and West Highlands was presented as a substantial stand-alone volume (Fisher 2001) which, unlike the others, included sustained analytical discussion of the material. The Canmore database is a major resource (see Section 3.5.4) and there are ongoing efforts to improve its utility to researchers working on early medieval carved stones (Case Study 30: Canmore Upgrade and Case Study 4: Canmore Upgrade Example).

There have been excellent catalogues of regional groupings by independent scholars and academics (Shetland–Scott and Ritchie 2009; Orkney–Scott and Ritchie 2014; Caithness–Blackie and Macaulay 1998; Dumfries and Galloway–Craig, unpublished PhD 1993; Rosemarkie–Henderson 1990; Elgin–Byatt 2008; Fortingall–Robertson 1997). Many of these have featured the interpretative drawings of Ian G Scott (Case Study 31: The value of metric drawing ), or his successor as chief illustrator at RCAHMS, John Borland (Figure 20). Scotland is very fortunate indeed to have such a comprehensive and high-quality set of interpretative drawings of early medieval sculpture. They are a major asset for future research (see Scott 1997 for reflections on drawing this material). Similarly, an extensive and high-quality photographic archive exists thanks to the efforts of RCAHMS photographers (at work in Figure 11) and independent photographer Tom Gray who pioneered techniques of oblique-flash photography for the purpose (Scott 1997). As befitted the research focus of the time, these photographs are typically only of the carved faces of stones. More recent interest in materiality, carving techniques, and monument biography requires greater attention to the less glamorous backs, sides, undersides and broken surfaces which have their own forms of information to yield.

A man with a tape measure, measuring symbols and lines on a cross slab

Figure 20: The Pictish cross-slab at Fordoun, being drawn by John Borland of the RCAHMS. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Publication of local groupings has followed archaeological excavation at monastic sites, incorporating both new finds and re-examinations of existing material (Inchmarnock–Lowe 2008HoddamLowe 2006TarbatCarver 2005; Carver et al. forthcoming; Forteviot–Hall 2011). A detailed corpus of the large and important collection of sculpture from St Vigeans (Geddes forthcoming) was associated with a major redisplay of the material in the care of Historic Scotland. Academic research was commissioned by Historic Scotland in association with other redisplay projects at Whithorn (Figure 21: Yeoman 2005; Forsyth 2003), Kirkmadrine   (Forsyth and Maldonado 2013) and Iona (Forsyth and Maldonado 2012). While some of the research findings have been presented at academic conferences none has yet been published (though see Forsyth and Maldonado in prep), a situation which reflects systemic challenges inherent in this way of working (see Section 3.5.1).

Two girls sat in a museum gallery with mounted medieval stones. One is looking at a book and both are listening to interpretation through headphones

Figure 21: The redisplay of early medieval carved stones at Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway. © M A Hall

The piecemeal approach to the recording has succeeded in providing coverage (often at a high level) for the great bulk of early medieval carved stones in Scotland, though there remain gaps. The scattered nature of these publications is a major drawback, as is the ephemeral nature of some of them (e.g. Blackie and Macaulay 1998; Byatt 2008; RCAHMS 2007b; 2008a; 2008b). It is unfortunate that the very important catalogue of south-west sculpture remains unpublished (Craig 1993). In addition to these regional catalogues, there have been hand-lists and catalogues of sub-categories of sculpture, most notably Pictish symbol-bearing stones (RCAHMS handlists 1985; 1994b; 1999; Fraser 2008; Mack 1997) and simple cross-incised stones (Henderson 1987a; Figure 22).

A small rectangular stone incised with a cross within a graveyard and more recent gravestones

Figure 22: Example of cross-incised stone, in the graveyard at Calgary, Mull. © Sally Foster

Leave a Reply