Different types of ownership bring with them distinct issues, opportunities and available resources. Further research is needed to create strategies to enhance management and tackle threats to carved stones that are informed by and accommodate these differences. Carved stone owners include central government, local authorities, ecclesiastical bodies, institutions, communities and private individuals. In some cases a stone’s owner and manager may be separate parties. A further layer of complexity is created at sites where multiple ownership interests exist (see for example Section 5.3.4). It is difficult to fully grasp the issues involved with caring for stones due to the fragmented nature of responsibilities towards them. Our understanding is particularly constrained by the lack of available records on ownership and condition.
Currently we lack insight into the fundamental curatorial issues facing the ownership groups who bear the biggest share of stewardship responsibilities: local authorities, churches, heritage bodies (for example HES, NMS: National Museums of Scotland, FCS: Forestry Commission Scotland, NTS: National Trust for Scotland), community groups, and farmers and other private individuals. We also know anecdotally that an inability to identify owners is a major issue for carved stones (see also Section 5.2.2). To better understand how ownership, management, protection and enhancement of carved stones interrelate we need research to help answer basic questions like the ones listed below:
- What is the diversity of management within current local authorities (for example for stones in local museums)?
- To what extent do carved stones present a management burden for churches (for example if early medieval fragments are housed within the church)? Is there the need to remain open for visitors, bringing greater security issues or increased insurance? What impact does the increasing amalgamation of parishes under one minister, who may have little knowledge or even interest in the carved stones in the care of individual churches, have in practice on stones?
- What is the impact of changes in ownership and use after churches and manses become redundant upon public access, stone condition or public opinion? How can we create better physical access to sites and monuments (including architectural sculpture) after a change in ownership/use?
- What resources do ‘friends of’ groups or other types of community management bring and what professional support is needed to ensure the sustainability of their actions, information, experience and skills (Figure 91)? See also Edinburgh Graveyards Project: Case Study 20 and also the work of Archaeology Scotland’s Adopt-A-Monument project.
- How does harnessing community values affect stewardship?
- How does graveyard conservation management conflict with burial provision (Buckham 2011)?
Understanding ideas of the ownership of carved stones is not simply a matter of the legal definition of property. Ownership should also take into account the cultural claims made on the resource, as well as the potential for others to get involved in stewardship. Heritage has a powerful role within the production of social identity (see for example Barkan and Bush 2002). On this basis a carved stone can be part of a group’s identity and vice versa; the stone is meaningful because it conveys a group’s identity. This interrelationship is founded on the basis that heritage, like identity, is inalienable: it cannot be transferred to the possession of others. Siân Jones in her seminal study of the Hilton of Cadboll cross-slab (2004; 2005; 2006a; Contemporary social values: Case Study 14) has characterised the conservation of carved stones in Scotland as beset by controversy that stems from contested claims of ownership based on different conceptions. She argues that the ‘crux of the conflict lies in the distinct meanings and values attached to the monument in local contexts in contrast to the spheres of heritage management and national patrimony’ (Jones 2005, 48; Figure 92).
Claims to stones are often expressed through discourses of ‘belonging’. This is evidenced by the metaphorical and symbolic meanings communities attached to stones, which are used as a focus to mediate the relationship between people and place. Heritage management systems tend to privilege professional authority and the scientific, aesthetic and historic values of heritage above the values derived from its cultural meaning to contemporary society (see Section 4.2). Accordingly, heritage professionals often lack an awareness and understanding of these social values, particularly within a local context. These values are not monolithic but reflect the heterogeneous nature of communities. Furthermore, the range of claims to stones can become more fragmented and complex, and possibly increasingly contested, where secondary contexts have resulted in new relationships and associations (see Barkan and Bush 2002). The relationship between communities and carved stones is not static. It may operate at a subliminal level as part of the background of daily life only for latent values and associations to surface when the relationship is threatened, for example by the removal of a carved stone from the locality into a museum far from where it was located. Heritage professionals can perceive these local values as short-lived and so less ‘authentic’ and valid against conservation needs or national measures of cultural significance (see Section 5.3.2). Local interests and attachments can clash with notions of ‘national public benefit’, particularly for conservation. The deep-rooted nature of a local community’s relationship with carved stones may mean they resist conservation. This is not only because attitudes towards conservation may differ since the concepts of ‘preservation’, ‘protection’, ‘permanency’, ‘decay’ and ‘aging’ are all culturally defined, and therefore subjective, but because it may undermine a community’s own sense of the authenticity for stones to embody the relationship between themselves and place by demonstrating another’s authority and ‘ownership’ over the stone.
Further research is urgently needed to investigate how the different meanings placed on carved stones by communities connect to concepts of identity and belonging. Identifying case studies where contested ownership has been successfully negotiated could encourage more effective locally based conservation and stewardship. Examples of a continuum of stewardship may similarly inspire community engagement (e.g. Robert Fergusson’s gravestone Figures 93–94).