2.6.3 Recording and researching graveyards: the work of heritage bodies

Significant progress in Scottish gravestone research has been made over the last 15 years. Prior to this, the main surveys were carried out in the RCAHMS regional inventories. These surveys included individual gravestones, initially only those pre-1707 in date, on the basis of their aesthetic merits. Graveyard surveys to evaluate conservation priorities carried out by local authorities and heritage organisations have developed various recording systems to allow sites to be compared on a consistent basis (e.g. Aberdeenshire Historic Kirkyards Project; PKHT Historic Churchyards project; conservation strategy for graveyards within the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership Area, Buckham and Fisher 2013, Figure 49). In 2005, Historic Scotland and the Council for Scottish Archaeology’s Carved Stones Adviser held a workshop attended by 30 individuals with a professional or amateur interest compiling, maintaining or using graveyard records. The workshop aimed to gain wider feedback on the usability and effectiveness of the CSAP graveyard recording methodology, including the criteria to create a summary record of a site’s gravestone assemblage, and to create a working definition for ‘historic graveyards’ (Buckham 2006). More recently, initiatives fostering engagement between local communities and professionals leading to co-production and co-curation of resources have included gravestone recording (e.g. Archaeology Scotland’s Adopt-a-Monument project; ACCORD). Forthcoming guidance on graveyard interpretation produced by Archaeology Scotland’s Adopt-a-Monument project and Kirkyard Consulting offers useful guidance to help improve public engagement.

A side on colour photo showing the flaking surface of gravestone and loss of writing and original surface

Figure 49: Delamination on sandstone headstone, Glassford Churchyard, South Lanarkshire. This burial site was surveyed to assess its cultural and natural values as part of the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership’s graveyard conservation strategy. © Susan Buckham

Research commissioned by Historic Scotland has established guiding principles and best practices techniques for graveyard conservation, including gravestone repairs and dealing with unstable stones (Maxwell et al. 2001; Historic Scotland 2003). The scoping report for the Edinburgh Graveyards Project identifies the main conservation management issues for urban graveyards and considers the potential for addressing these through improved local authority management and increased community stewardship (Buckham 2013a). However, there are some notable gaps in heritage-led research. For example, the potential use of gravestones for a controlled study of stone decay has been recognised and while Scottish data has been assembled, it has not been analysed although such studies have taken elsewhere (Inkpen 1999). Of greater concern is the lack of study given to gravestones’ cultural significance in order to reflect upon their full range of potential values and to find holistic ways to assess their importance. This includes the qualitative investigation of current social values to build on existing quantitative surveys (for example Buckham 2013a; Buckham and Fisher 2013; Buckham and Dakin 2007). In addition, research is needed to help interpret gravestones at an assemblage and landscape level (Buckham 2015; 2016), rather than simply identifying individual gravestones of aesthetic and historic merit. Regional studies are beginning to frame research questions to advance our understanding of graveyards (Farrell 2001; Buckham 2015a). Priorities include characterising regional variation in gravestone design and use, and exploring how this may be influenced by local graveyard management or by the capacity of gravestones to express social identities, as well as reassessing historical sources to better understand data bias, shifting perceptions of the social value of gravestones and how commemoration operated within wider funerary behaviour.

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