7. Looking forward

Mute stones can speak volumes to us all, if we choose to listen. Significance is the tool for releasing that potential, thinking and working in a 'joined-up' way.

The production of this Research Framework initiated a broader conversation about the value and significance of Scotland's carved stone heritage in the 21st century, the benefits of future research on this heritage, and how this might best be achieved. Under the headings of Creating Knowledge and Understanding (Section 3.8), Understanding Value (Section 4.4), Securing for the Future (Section 5.4), and Engaging and Experiencing (Section 6.3), the Framework has identified research principles, problems, practices and ideas for projects, whether enhancing existing initiatives or new directions, while historiographies identified how we arrived at our present understanding and some of the gaps and issues with our current understanding (Section 2).

With its wiki-format, users can continue to breathe life into this Framework so that it continues to reflect current practice and research priorities as they inevitably develop over time. This is just the beginning of a process, and it is the ambition of the authors and NCCSS that they and others will continue to organize activities, such as workshops, that will develop some of these issues, and broaden engagement. Ongoing communication and capacity building is crucial, and it is clear that there is much existing data, research, knowledge, experience and enthusiasm across the many existing communities of interest that can be brought together and utilized with a little more effort. But new directions and more significant investments of effort in particular areas are also needed for the needs and opportunities identified in this Framework to be realized in the context of the heritage conservation cycle, government national heritage strategies and national outcomes (see Sections 1.4 and 4.1).

Looking forward, successful carved stone research may appear as:

  1. International in perspective and outlook: considering the local, national and supra-national, learning from what happens elsewhere.
  2. Enlightening, offering significant insights into human endeavour and thought.
  3. In the mainstream of academic, heritage and wider public activities.
  4. Holistic—admitting and embracing all the possible values and significances that can attach to carved stones, not just the historic; recognizing how research draws from and feeds into making a difference in the heritage conservation cycle.
  5. Cross-cutting, interdisciplinary, silo-busting and imaginative: challenging, not just for how it makes us think about understandings of carved stones, their value, protection and interpretation, but for our theoretical and practical approaches to other topics.
  6. Collaborative: strategic and joined-up working across sectors and across stakeholder interests; more common purpose; routinely identifying when planned work with carved stones needs research, or uniquely offers research opportunities, and enabling this; enabling greater and multiple dividends from each unit of research.
  7. Visionary, directed and targeted: addressing specific needs (as identified in Research Recommendations in this Framework) while practicing foresight; balancing extensive research projects and detailed case studies.
  8. Intelligent and informed decision-making that brings an understanding of values, condition and risk to strategies and projects to protect and enhance enjoyment and engagement, as well as to supporting further research.
  9. Readily accessible as primary data and research outputs for different audiences: available; searchable intelligently; comprehensible; presented to a good and coherent standard.
  10. Shared and inviting, broadening communities of interest so that carved stones needs and opportunities are better recognized and addressed including and beyond the immediate academic and heritage sector.
  11. Innovative, employing established and new methodologies, notably scientific and digital technologies. Applying materiality, biography and landscape approaches.
  12. Enhancing capacity through matching experts, researchers and public, and promoting and developing skills, academic and practical.
  13. Reflected upon and acted upon with, for example, new policy and guidance, or different approaches to heritage management and interpretation.
  14. Valued publicly, with carved stones having an impact for their instrumental benefits, and where those uses (e.g. tourism) are informed by research.

Figure 108: Entrance to south aisle of the nave, Coldingham Priory. Hunter 1858, engraved by W Banks and Son, Edinburgh