LiveScience has a fascinating report on how scientists are interpreting the stories of native peoples, relating them to actual events in order to improve their knowledge of ancient natural catastrophes.
Clues from native lore are being used by scientists to trace catastrophic events in the history of the Pacific Northwest. Native Americans used mythological figures to repents wind, thunder and water. According to scientists, native culture is rich with stories describing earthquake, tsunami and landslide events.
As an example of the longevity and accuracy of folk knowledge, nine separate folk tales emerge between 1860 and 1964, which scientists believe describe a large tsunami occuring in 1700. Stories are handed down through the generations, sometimes from eyewitnesses to the original event with great accuracy. Stories frequently use metaphor to record these catastrophic events. Researchers relate metaphors found in tales. such as the Thunderbird, to ground shaking, ocean surges and other events.