2.8.2 Some key themes

As identified in Section 1.3, from a heritage perspective, carved stones stand out as being things that can move from being portable to fixed and that means they are treated in different contexts as ‘artefacts’ and ‘monuments’, things to which different values and heritage practices are associated. Since most carved stones can technically be moved (even bedrock), much of the heritage discourse surrounding the protection of carved stones has focused on the pros and cons of whether they are best preserved in situ (which in this context does not just mean their original context, but where they are presently found, since value attaches to their later biographies too: Jones 2004, 66). While recent research has highlighted this issue, its history in Scotland and its legacy (Foster 2001; 2010a; Jones 2004), the current implications of this ‘schizophrenic’ identity need addressing further, not least for legal protection and ‘ownership’ (Section 5.2).

Social value now has to be factored in too (see Section 4). Jones’ research on Hilton of Cadboll produced recommendations for Hilton of Cadboll, early medieval carved stones and for heritage management in general. Among these it reinforced the desirability of keeping (early medieval) carved stones as close as possible to their historic locality but made the point that, even where the stated heritage practices might align with this approach (Breeze 2000), the rationale was largely based on historic and aesthetic value rather than social value (Jones 2004, 66); her work revealed the role of carved stones in the relationship between community and place, how the threat of removal of carved stones can exaggerate this relationship, and how failure to research and act on social values in such contexts inevitably leads to tensions between different communities of interest (Contemporary social value: Case Study 14).

If stones are not moved then the conservation strategies to preserve them in situ usually involve material interventions, possibly to the fabric of the stone but most likely to its immediate surroundings. By the 1970s and 1980s, Scotland was notable for the number of early medieval monuments around which shelters were erected, to preserve them in situ, most notably Sueno’s Stone. This approach inevitably begs questions about its short- and long-term efficacy (Muir 2005; Sheltering monuments: Case Study 17), aside from issues with impact on aesthetics, other values and physical access, all of which are scarcely researched (Jones 2004, 66). The impact of such events—the intersection between material transformation of a carved stone, scientific interventions and cultural value—has not yet been explored, although qualitative research in relation to Scottish buildings has found that decay is integral to an appreciation of value and hence significance, so heritage science needs to be sensitive to this (Douglas-Jones et al. in press; Science, value and material decay: Case Study 8). Understanding of the impact of conservation measures and display in museums contexts is also a gap.

A related heritage issue that is beginning to be explored is the substitution of replicas for relocated stones, old and new, digital and analogue (Figure 64; Jeffrey 2015; Foster and Curtis 2016). Aspects of their production have been researched, but processes in the late 20th century are not well documented (Bryce and Caldwell 1981). Replicas remain an important tool in the heritage managers’ tool box, and with new digital technologies they can be produced in many new ways (Section 3.3.2), but many questions remain to be addressed, not least their impact on values and the heritage implications of this (see Section 4.3.5). Authenticity and carved stones, including replicas, is discussed in Section 5.3.4.

A slab of what looks like stone with an incised stone footprint on top of a grassy hill with views of surrounding landscape

Figure 64: The carved outcrop on the top of Dunadd fort in Argyll and Bute is covered for its protection from weathering with an accurate copy. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

An issue explored with different success rates by HS and others working on rock-art projects in Britain, such as NADRAP, ERA and RAPP, was the extent to which volunteers can provide information that will usefully help with the monitoring of carved stones (e.g. Barnett and Sharpe 2010; CARE project: University of Newcastle 2014; Rock art recording: Case Study 29; see Section 6.2.9). This boils down to the question of whether volunteers can they provide reliable information at the micro- as opposed to micro- or mega- level of detail (see Section 5.2.4). By way of comparison, the evaluation of the Scotland’s Rural Past project showed that even after good training of community archaeologists in surveying sites, professional skills were still needed (Scottish Cultural Enterprise 2011, 43).

A particular challenge in producing this overview has been that many of the advances in heritage conservation practices and associated research is undertaken by heritage bodies working on monuments in their care and they tend not to publish their work in peer-reviewed publications, although it may be well documented on internal files. This contrasts to policy and guidance literature that is aimed at external as well as internal audiences. For hints of the perhaps routine but cumulatively significant work we are often dependent on the grey literature of popular or technical magazines, such as Historic Scotland (Figure 65), Focus, History Scotland, Archaeology Scotland and Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. A further body of very significant grey literature is the conservation management plans and other similar monument and site-specific documents that are written for the benefit of monument owners and other bodies and that are not normally published, online or otherwise. There is a lot that could be done to review that body of research, put it into context and build on its outcomes (see Doehne and Price 2010, 66–74 on how to do this effectively). A related factor is that there has been relatively little by way of major strategic research projects in relation to Scotland’s carved stones.

Front cover of Historic Scotland magazine showing a stone carver at work

Figure 65: Whether explicitly or otherwise, short articles on carved stones have often been a feature of the Historic Scotland magazine for its Friends. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Further, as Sections 2.1–7 have shown, much of the past research has been driven by a desire to acquire knowledge about carved stones in the past (their historical significance–see Section 4.3.1). Heritage requirements have led to some of that research, with the recognition of the benefits of new research to inform visitor interpretation schemes (The Iona stones redisplay: Case Study 26). However, so far very little research on carved stones in Scotland has been driven by the need to understand their values (but see Jones 2004), strategic research to inform protection has been patchy, and there has also been very little research on the practices and consequences of carved stone conservation, interpretation, display, and presentation. The 2003 Able Minds and Practised Hands conference and its associated publication (Foster and Cross 2005; Disciplinary collaboration: Case Study 18 ) is probably the only occasion in which a large group of heritage professionals drew on their diverse and extensive institutional back histories and reflected on the implications of this, at a single moment in time, for all aspects of the heritage conservation cycle in relation to a select body of carved stones in Scotland (but note Barnett and Sharpe 2010 for rock art in Britain; Figure 66).

Front cover of Carving a Future for British Rock Art book

Figure 66: Barnett and Sharpe (2010) offers a very useful overview of many issues relating to heritage management and conservation of prehistoric rock art in Britain. © Oxbow Books

Carved stones possess an innate value as vehicles to study the history of conservation techniques, particularly since WW2 (Boyes 1999), and the evolution of heritage practices more widely. This is of value in its own right, and because it informs what future directions for carved stone research need to be more generally as well as informing the specifics of a particular conservation case. For instance, several studies suggest the potential for gravestones to act as a laboratory to study decay processes (Inkpen 1999) but analysis has not taken place that has fed back into strategies for graveyard management (see Section 5.3.4).

Overall, this means that there was a concerted but now thoroughly outdated strategic effort to address the conservation needs of Scotland’s early medieval carved stones at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and there was some useful, but in practice only starter, initiatives in relation to gravestones and graveyards at the beginning of the 21st. Work on collections of ex-situ carved stones is impressive but is limited to monuments in state care. That still leaves a significant gap in research in relation to (rockfast) rock art (see Section 5.3.5). This is a developing field of international enquiry but one that already includes some long-term and significant programmes of research (Doehne and Price 2010, 58–63; Darvill and Fernandes 2014a; see Section 2.1). Heritage activities in Scotland in relation to rock art have largely been driven by the desire to make sites more accessible to the public and to improve their setting (Foster 2010b).

The effectiveness and impact of all the recent heritage initiatives have not, to the best of our knowledge, been critically researched, although visitor satisfaction at new carved stone facilities has presumably been evaluated by the providers in some instances. This applies to initiatives such as Archaeology Scotland’s Adopt-a-Monument Scheme, local kirkyard projects (see examples in Section 2.7), and HLF-funded landscape partnership that includes projects relating to carved stones. These are welcome initiatives that have generated bodies of guidance and best practice but which may not be easy to access, such as conservation management plans. Meanwhile, Scotland is presently in the vanguard of digital recording for conservation science and reconstruction purposes, as seen in CyArk’s work at Rosslyn Chapel, but this is not without considerable issues (see Section 3.3.2). HES continues to review its technical conservation research priorities, and these include gravestones (Ewan Hyslop pers comm.)

For further reading, see Section 10.8 (heritage and conservation) and Section 10.9 (digital recording).

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