Case Study: Investigating our carved stone heritage

Case Study 27

Investigating our carved stone heritage: resources to support learning and engagement

Fiona Davidson

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) cares for some of the most important carved and sculptured stones in Scotland ranging from the later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age rock art of Achnabreck in Argyll and Bute to the 16th-century tomb in St Clements Church on Harris. They include the Pictish collections at Meigle and St Vigeans Museums, early Christian stones and high crosses on Iona, the later medieval carved stone fragments at Elgin Cathedral and many more individual stones across Scotland (Figure 1).

These stones represent a valuable learning resource that can support Curriculum for Excellence in schools. Carved stones can be used for the study of relevant past societies such as the Picts in Angus or Christianity on Iona as part of Social Studies. But there are also opportunities for a cross-curricular approach that supports learning outcomes in e.g. Religious and Moral Education, Literacy, Expressive Arts and Technologies while also delivering on overarching themes such as Outdoor Learning and Creativity. The potential links between the techniques used to create carved stones and the traditional skills required by HES in the conservation of sites supports learning about the World of Work (Figure 2).

The HES Learning Team provides support materials and resources to encourage the use of carved stones as a learning resource. Investigating Early Carved Stones, available in PDF form, aims to help teachers make the most of carved stones as a way of finding out about the societies who created them. Covering the prehistoric, Pictish and early Christian periods, with background information and questions to encourage investigation of the stones, it allows planning for self-directed visits to sites with suggested activities to try before, during and after the visit (Figure 3).

Investigating PDFs are also available for a range of individual stones including St John’s Cross, Iona and Sueno’s Stone, Moray.

In addition, object handling boxes have been developed to support learners visiting the collections at Meigle and St Vigeans Museums. These provide an opportunity for a hands-on experience—holding a replica of a ‘Pictish mirror’, a symbol commonly found on stones, can create a link between modern-day life and a society from the past that may seem too distant to relate to. Support materials to accompany the boxes, Investigating Objects from the Past: Pictish Life, are available in PDF form (Figure 4).

The latest addition to the suite of handling boxes provides learners with a more modern hands-on experience. Faces of the Past is being developed to complement the recent redisplay and interpretation of the medieval carved stones at Elgin Cathedral. Using 3D technology, 11 3D prints and three full-sized casts of specific stones have been created to allow groups to handle actual size versions of the stones while also finding out about the technologies used by HES to record, conserve and interpret the carved stones being cared for (Figure 5).

HES materials related to carved stones in Scotland are available to download for free from the https://www.historicenvironment.scot/learn.


Figure 1: Replica of St John’s Cross, and St Martin’s Cross, Iona. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland


Figure 2: Pupils discover the skills involved in stone carving. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland


Figure 3: Investigating Early Carved Stones resource. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland


Figure 4: Replica of Pictish mirror from Investigating Objects from the Past: Pictish life handling box. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland


Figure 5: 3D prints and casts of the carved stone fragments at Elgin Cathedral. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland