Carved stones offer insights into the social biographies of people (both individuals and communities), while a cultural biographical approach to the carved stones (including collections of stones and replicas) offers the framework for exploring the meaning and values that carved stones had from the point of their creation, including selection of rocks from which to carve them (see Section 3.2.3). The nature and shifting pattern of these values for different communities of interest is of importance in its own right. It enables us to identify how and on what (or not) our present values systems are based, and to provide a hook to the interests of contemporary communities. Graffiti is a particularly good example of how the values attached to specific marks on stones, as well as the act of carving graffiti, change across time and space, and between individuals and communities, and the debates that can arise from this (Figure 87; Graffiti: Case Study 34). By thinking across and between biographies, bigger patterns can be observed. The biographical approach can therefore provide contextual overviews to explore whether different practices can be linked to different periods at regional and national level. It can assist with defining what we mean by 'carved stones', refining our understanding of aspects of materiality (evidence of remaking and reuse, for example) and interpreting the social values placed on carved stones in the present.
Figure 87: Norse graffiti made in Maeshowe Neolithic chambered tomb, as recorded in a painted 20th-century plaster cast in the NMS (IB 310). © Doug Simpson
A biographical approach also allows some very specific issues to be considered. For example, the value placed on the location and context of carved stones (historically and today) and what underpins those values (ownership and sense of belonging) (Figure 88).
Figure 88: Spolia–transported carved stone fragments–may have particularly extended cultural biographies, as here in Sir Walter Scott's gardens at Abbotsford, Scottish Borders. © Sally Foster