Parks Canada/Canadian Press
Sea floor scan image showing one of the missing ships from the Franklin expedition.

The Inuit Were Right: Shipwreck Find Confirms 168-Year-Old Oral History


The discovery of a ship that had been missing since 1846 has at least partially solved one of Canada's favorite mysteries; what's more, its location confirms the veracity of Inuit accounts that never squared with the accepted version of what happened.

In 1845, two ships—HMS Erebus and HMS Terror—under the command of Sir John Franklin set sail from England. Franklin's expedition was headed for the Arctic waters above Canada, with the goal of completing the charting of the Northwest Passage. The expedition never returned. Both ships became icebound in 1846, and the crew set out on foot. All eventually died. Those were the basic details of the story, but there existed a controversial extra element: testimony of Inuit hunters, handed down orally, that the ships were seen off the northwest coast of King William Island. While one of the ships was crushed in ice and sank in deep water, the Inuit said, the other drifted southward, to shallower water. What's more, there were still sailors on board.

RELATED: Science Catches Up With Inuit Oral History, "Discovering" Ancient Paleo-Eskimos

The Inuit testimony was discounted by many, and for decades—now generations—the final fate of the Franklin wrecks was unknown, or at least unverified. 

Now, one of the ships has been discovered, in shallow waters in an area called Utjulik, just as the Inuit oral accounts had maintained.

"For us Inuit it means that oral history is very strong in knowledge, not only for searching for Franklin's ships but also for environment and other issues," Louie Kamookak, an Inuit historian, told CBC News.

David Woodman, author of the book Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony, told the Toronto Star that "This is a vindication of the Inuit testimony, definitely." Some of the inconsistencies in the Inuit accounts, Woodman explained, were due to poor translation of the Inuktitut language by white interviewers and a lack of understanding of how the Inuit measured time or distance. Once all the details of the discovery are made public, Woodman looks forward to "reverse engineer[ing] what the Inuit actually meant, as opposed to what we were told they said."

Here is raw video from the find released by Parks Canada:

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hesutu's picture
Submitted by hesutu on
The key thing to note in the various media coverage of this story is that indigenous accounts of history are all superstition and nonsense until the happy day that a glorious european can observe evidence for himself, at which point a "discovery" is newly made for the first time. The genius european may then name the discovery after himself if he so chooses.