How carved stones are cared for and protected (indeed the heritage in general) is informed by attitudes to what is 'authentic' (see Section 2.8.2); we tend to value those things we perceive to be authentic, and seek to preserve those qualities. Until recently there has been an overwhelming emphasis on material authenticity, with the 'true' nature of objects being defined in relation to origins, provenance and fabric (see Pye 2001; Muñoz Viñas 2011). For carved stone, continuity and character of setting has also played an important role in assessing authenticity, because such materials have often become fragmented or separated from their original contexts. For instance, early medieval carved stone is rarely in its original historical context, and has a 'schizophrenic' tendency to be viewed as both monument and artefact (Foster 2001). The authenticity of subsequent settings, whether in the landscape, historic buildings or museums, is therefore open to question in the context of authorized notions of authenticity, and various forms of expert practice and judgement are devoted to addressing it, and in different contexts (e.g. Jokilehto 2006). Carved architectural fragments that have become detached from ruinous historic buildings also jeopardise authenticity, and much effort is expended on maintaining their material and historical associations, either through physical association or through record.
The rise of conservation science in the mid–late 20th century further reinforced materialist conceptions of authenticity (Muñoz Viñas 2011, 67–9). Increasingly sophisticated techniques for analysing and treating fabric (see Section 2.8.1) offer the promise of ways of both establishing and stabilizing the authenticity of historic objects, including carved stones. However, in the last 20 to 30 years a parallel body of literature has arisen, questioning materialist approaches. It has been argued that authenticity is not an intrinsic or essential quality. Instead it is something that is constructed by people; a product of specific regimes of meaning and practice. Experts—such as art historians, archaeologists, conservators and heritage managers—play a crucial role it is argued in producing and mediating authenticity.
There has been relatively little research applying these arguments specifically to carved stone monuments and a materialist approach to authenticity prevails especially in the context of their conservation. Nevertheless, some recent studies have attempted to overcome the 'materialist'/'constructivist' dichotomy. Gustafsson and Karlsson (2014) have conducted a comparative study of authenticity at eight rock-art sites with World Heritage Status. Jones and Yarrow (2013) have examined the production of authenticity through expert practice at Glasgow Cathedral, where carved stone elements of the building, in particular the gargoyles, pose specific problems. Jones (2009; 2010) has also examined the experience of authenticity using the early medieval Hilton of Cadboll cross-slab as one of her case studies (Contemporary social value: Case Study 14). This research highlights that the materiality of such monuments, including signs of weathering and age value, are important in terms of people's experience of authenticity (and see also Holtorf 2013). The Science, value and material decay: Case Study 8 examines the values associated with material transformation and the impact of science-based conservation on these values. More important still is the network of relations between such objects and past people and places. This has important implications for their 'affective' qualities and indeed for their role in heritage interpretation and education (see Jones 2016 in press).
There is a pressing need for more research on approaches to authenticity in relation to carved stones. How should we deal with authenticity in light of the often complex and fragmented biographies of many carved stone monuments? Do the carved surfaces and aesthetic qualities of carved stone play a role? How is authenticity experienced in relation to carved stone monuments and fragments and what are the implications as regards their conservation? Carved stones with their history of analogue and digital replication and reconstruction offer a particularly useful laboratory for exploration of what authenticity is, and how it was perceived over the last couple of centuries (in the past many museums, such as the Royal Scottish Museum, had a tradition of disposing of their historic plaster casts of carved stones). This understanding is necessary to inform heritage practice in general as well as the specifics of protecting and presenting carved stones.
Recent research has focused on the historical, ethical and practical issues associated with both physical and digital replicas, often using carved stones as the case studies. For example, the practical questions to consider in relation to replicas such as achieving a quality of reproduction with an appropriate level of detail, proficiencies in casting techniques and impact on the original stone (Maxwell 2005). Traditionally, the materialist approach has underpinned a straightforward distinction between originals and replicas. Lacking original substance, replicas were seen as secondary, shallow and lacking in 'aura', even while they were accorded value in the context of education and display. Yet, recent research has shown that replicas acquire their own cultural biographies, while simultaneously contributing to the social lives of the stones they replicate (Foster et al. 2014; Foster and Curtis 2016). It has also been argued that authenticity and value can 'migrate' from originals to replicas (Latour and Lowe 2011), while others suggest that replicas acquire distinct forms of authenticity and value (Cameron 2007; Holtorf 2005; Jones 2010). Nevertheless, there have been very few qualitative social studies examining how replicas of historic objects and monuments 'work' in their own right and in relation to their parent (though see Jeffrey et al. 2015 on digital 'replicas'). How do they mediate people's experience of heritage? When and how do they acquire authenticity and value? What kinds of social and material relations do they sustain? Given their widespread use in heritage and museum contexts, there is a pressing need for qualitative research that can increase our understanding of these areas.