Ultimately, the story of Edward Van Cortlandt's Ottawa Ossuary, as presented here, is not so much an archaeological story as it is a useful reminder about one of the fundamental raison d'être of scholarly associations and scientific publications of record. While the 1843 article may in fact provide a seemingly accurate location for the ossuary, other details stray from the one attributed source, the 1853 Van Cortlandt article. The 1853 article, written by the excavator of the ossuary, must stand as the publication of record and the 1843 article will always remain tantalizing but, without knowledge of its author, one that is impossible to subject to any kind of essential and critical scrutiny. It basically has the weight of hearsay evidence as in a court of law. We do not know the experience of the writer or the rigor of the reporter. It must be rejected, or at the very least, considered as unsubstantiated and suspect.
This instance reminds us of why scientific societies publish the findings of their members in journals. It is not to sell subscriptions or advertising, nor to instigate controversies in an otherwise curious, but ill-informed readership. Rather, it is to serve as an exchange of scientific information among readers who share methods and goals, and by openly and fully sharing their findings, acknowledging and documenting their sources, knowledge remains democratic and broadly owned, and, most importantly, accessible, verifiable and cumulative, allowing future investigators to build upon earlier discoveries and further our collective quest for knowledge.
Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt |
A Comparison of Two Articles