4.2 Identifying and evaluating value, significance and importance

This Framework seeks a holistic approach that considers the full range of possible values for carved stones, and allows their research potential to encapsulate the full spectrum of interests, i.e. not just those of academics. Figure 80 illustrates four established typologies and terminologies that can be used as a framework for analyzing values. The carved stones Research Framework adopts Mason’s influential set of criteria (Mason 2002) as it seeks to draw a distinction between cultural values and what are better recognized as public values (instrumental benefits). As denoted by Clark (2010), for example, public value recognizes the knowledge value (e.g. through education) of heritage places, their identity value (how we understand the relationship between personal and community identity and a sense of place), bequest value (as something to care for in order to pass down to future generations) and their distinctiveness value (what makes them special). The benefits also include economic growth and regeneration, benefits to areas where projects take place, benefits to communities affected by the projects, and benefits to individuals.

In general, we need to know more about the relationship between cultural and public values. For example, in the case of Hilton of Cadboll (Contemporary social value: Case Study 14; Monument biography: Case Study 16), what has been the impact on local public values of the excavation to understand the context of the cross-slab and to recover its missing portions, and the community’s creation and erection of an imaginative reconstruction of the cross-slab? What has been the impact of what happened locally on cultural values held by the other communities of interest?

Figure 80: Comparison of different schemes for cultural values and public values (the benefits that do or could flow from them).

Establishing values requires a variety of methodologies; it is a process that calls for the involvement of many people in different disciplines and cross-cutting approaches. Values are opinions and these need to come from all interested parties not just specialists. This creates practical challenges for heritage professionals wanting to work in an informed way with an understanding of values. Practically, this means that heritage managers seeking to establish the cultural significance of carved stones, need to be both expert advisor and orchestrator of the different views that have been garnered, for the values extend to communities of interest beyond their personal, professional and other concerns. It is through a process of what Mason (2002, 14) calls ‘elicitation and elaboration’ that cultural significance at a particular moment in time can be established in a collaborative way, and in a manner, that can help to manage conflicts and inform a common purpose.

When is expertise in one area to be surrendered to another? Stories have a social value even if that value can be shown to be based on misconceptions. Opportunities arise from the multiple values attributed to carved stones, meaning that you can tell many stories about them, and different communities of interest may intersect in different ways with these stories.

Conservation debates and international charters currently tend to privilege certain values over others. This traditional heritage discourse is most clearly seen in designation practices (Historic Scotland 2011) where the prime considerations in determining whether a monument, building etc. is of national, regional or local importance are historic and aesthetic (Jones and Leech 2015; Section 5.2.2). Ranking (deciding what is most important) is appropriate for specific purposes, but not for ranking multiple and varying values. Certainly, we need ultimately to be able to identify priorities, but we need to improve the evidence base for such decisions and acknowledge that such ranking schemes are over simplistic and not holistic. The risk is that narrowly defined designation schemes have a knock-on effect in terms of how the future of the heritage is approached, such as in determining allocation of grants. There is much that it ought, in theory, to be possible to achieve with intelligent application of informed assessments of significance without ranking systems. Informed assessment of significance can be applied to single, group or national assemblages of carved stones, regardless of who owns or cares for them, and if and how they are presently designated for protection purposes. We also need to acknowledge that carved stones lacking ‘national importance’ may be significant in other ways; conversely, stones lacking high social recognition may be extremely important.

For example, a gravestone may be valued locally because it commemorates someone who is remembered as playing an important role in the history of the local community, and its production may testify to high levels of local craftsmanship, but there is nothing of national significance about the burial marker, whether in terms of it art-historical significance (its form and decoration), or the associations of the named individual that it commemorates. Simple cross-incised stones may be of limited aesthetic value, very difficult to date, and potentially hold little interest to the local community, but could be evidence for some of the earliest Christian communities in Scotland, their contacts, their places of burial if not their church sites (Auchnaha: Case Study 39).