Knowing what we have is the starting point of the heritage conservation cycle. The ways in which we capture, classify and collate information about carved stones reflects, however, not just our current understanding of them but the academic and scientific values we associate with them. Thus there is a cyclical relationship between the creation of knowledge and our values (Section 1.4). New understandings may alter or refresh how we value certain stones, which in turn, may prompt new questions, both about the stones themselves and the formation of values attached to them. The key to effective recording, therefore, is that it be research driven and that it recognise this relationship between knowledge and value (which in turn needs researching in its own right: see Section 4).
Surveys should capture the gamut of what is currently thought to be significant about specific types of carved stones. This may go far beyond recording the physical attributes of the stone itself and may include its immediate context, wider landscape setting and social practices (past and current) linked to it. We should be ambitious and seek, not only to address our current questions, but to enable the continued development of new perspectives. Section 2 provides a sense of the diverse range of agendas that have driven past recording programmes, the diversity of recording practices, and where the imbalances lie. For example, interest in recording gravestones has been propelled more by local, rather than academic, interest in inscriptions or 18th-century carving whereas the creation of typologies for gravestones (e.g. Tarlow 1999), as for the majority of carved stones types, has arisen largely from academic analysis. This is just one example of the lack of awareness of collaborative opportunities between researchers using the same datasets and researching similar themes. The same might be said for aligning conservation- and heritage-led research on carved stones (which may be very case-specific) with more strategic, research agendas.
The emerging interest in carved stones using the research themes of materiality, biography and landscape (see examples cited in Section 2) illustrates how our understanding can be developed through analytical frameworks but also highlights the many gaps in knowledge that prevent this analysis being carried out for stones of different periods.
By creating records of carved stones we capture data that, when disseminated, enables us to acquire further knowledge about the resource. Within this process we need systems to classify data and schemes to organize it on the basis of similarities and difference. By placing records into different types of datasets we can make them available, with the format depending on the intended application of information. Increasingly we are drawing on digital technologies and scientific techniques to capture evidence from carved stones.
The creation of records requires the development of agreed taxonomies and the organisation of information into datasets. The main datasets for carved stones are Canmore, corpora, handlists, thematic datasets and audits.