This section considers why people value carved stones (singly and as collections) and why they are relevant to society. Values are 'qualities and characteristics seen in things, in particular the positive characteristics (actual and potential)' (Mason 2002, 7; Section 4.2). These values are not intrinsic to the subject but are socially constructed and contingent. The values that we attribute to things also change with time as understanding and other circumstances change. We therefore need to understand the different ways in which carved stones are valued. We also need to be able to reflect critically on how we have acquired this understanding, and be aware of its implications. Section 4.3 will introduce the strengths and weaknesses of research on different categories of values in relation to carved stones, leading to research recommendations in Section 4.4.
Understanding the value of carved stones is critical because international heritage and conservation practice promotes a values-based approach to heritage management. A values-based approach involves a process whereby decisions—whether addressing conservation needs, developing interpretation plans or managing change for other reasons, such as development—are first informed by an understanding of cultural significance. Understanding significance releases potential, and is independent of institutional domains and boundaries: it is a 'powerful persuader' and a way of eliciting the passion and expertise of curators and others, and of sharing this (Russell and Winkworth 2009, 2–3). It provides the means to ensure that future actions enhance, exploit or, at the very least, do not impact adversely on what is deemed significant—of good practice. Cultural significance is the sum of values, and these need to be researched (De La Torre 2002; 2005). There are useful reviews of the development of the application of values in heritage contexts in, for example, Emerick and Jones and Leech 2015. Yet, what do we actually know about such values and their application in the context of carved stones? Have we taken into account the cyclical relationship between the creation of knowledge (Section 3) and our academic and scientific values? A related issue is access to data and to knowledge, and how this feeds into the values that people ascribe to things.
An understanding of values in relation to carved stones will also provide a framework and means to progress the aims and intended outcomes of government and sector strategies. Our Place in Time (OPIT) refers to the need 'to ensure that the cultural, social, environmental and economic value of our heritage continues to make a major contribution to the nation's wellbeing' (Scottish Government 2014, 7). In terms of SG National Outcomes, a better understanding of carved stones can particularly contribute to two SG National Outcomes: 'We value and enjoy our built and natural environment and protect it and enhance it for future generations' and 'We take pride in a strong, fair and inclusive national identity' (Scottish Government 2014).