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More than 150 years later, shipwreck is found where the Inuit said it was

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The discovery of a historic vessel in the Canadian Arctic confirms Inuit lore

Dibner Library Portrait Collection / Wikimedia Commons

Unless it’s written down, the reliability of any story is easily questioned. Facts can get distorted and events become increasingly fictional. But thanks to a discovery announced today by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the reliability of one specific Inuit tale is now indisputable. Because, as it turns out, Inuit lore accurately predicted the location of a shipwreck belonging to British Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin.

"white men who were starving."

Franklin perished sometime between 1845 and 1850 along with the rest of his 128-person crew after his two ships got stuck in ice. He was trying to map the Northwest passage when the expedition went awry. And although the Inuit have been telling stories for over 150 years of "white men who were starving" in the late 1850s in the very area where the shipwreck was found, it wasn't until Saturday that the tale was confirmed.

"The beauty of where [the researchers] found it is it's proof positive of Inuit oral history," said CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge during a live broadcast today. Mansbridge, a reporter who has covered the Franklin search for a number of years, was clearly impressed by the the tale’s accuracy. "The Inuit have said for generations that one of their hunters saw a ship in that part of the passage, abandoned and ended up wrecking… It's exactly where this guy said it was."

The researchers say that they're certain that the ship belongs to Franklin, reports the CBC. Unfortunately, they were unable to confirm exactly which of his ships they found. It could be the HMS Erebus or the HMS Terror, so the scientists will soon begin exploring its contents for clues about the vessel's identify. Regardless, Harper said, the discovery is a "historic event" for Canada. "For more than a century, [Franklin’s journey] has been a great Canadian story," he said. This is "a really important day in mapping together the history of our country."

"It's proof positive of Inuit oral history."

A remotely-operated underwater vehicle is responsible for finding the shipwreck, which was located at the bottom of the Victoria Strait, near King William Island in Nunavut, a northern Canadian territory. But it's worth noting that the investigation itself was prompted by the discovery of iron and wooden objects at an abandoned Inuit campsite near the wreck.