At a fancy New York dinner in the 1950s, guests were told they would be dining on some meat from a 250,000-year-old woolly mammoth. The story has become a bizarre urban legend. Without wishing to spoil the party, a recent scientific investigation has shown they weren’t actually eating mammoth meat.
The legend of the mammoth steaks comes from a banquet at the 47th Explorers Club Annual Dinner in January 1951. On the menu was the prehistoric meat of a 250,000-year-old mammoth, found frozen on Akutan Island in Alaska.
Paul Griswold Howes, an American museum director, was invited to the event, although he was unable to attend. To relax his "fear of missing out," the club gave him a piece of the meat to keep as a souvenir. A study, published in PLOS ONE this week, identified this remaining piece of meat using DNA analysis, which showed the exotic meat was actually green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas).
The sample of the supposed "mammoth meat" from 1951. Image credit: Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, US. CC BY 4.0
The Explorers Club are a ragbag of explorers and scientists who have joined together in the hope of advancing scientific research and promoting public interest in science. Notable members of the club include Neil Armstrong, Teddy Roosevelt, and a wealth of explorers renowned for their “famous first” explorations.
Although the club has seemingly matured in its old age, in their heyday they were famous for their exclusive, eccentric, and decadent events. Previous banquets reportedly served arctic feasts that included king crabs, arctic vegetation, and glacial ice for the cocktails – all freshly flown in by the U.S. Navy. The hors d’oeuvres included fried tarantulas and goat eyeballs.
The Explorers Club funded the Yale analysis and seemed satisfied with the results – eating extinct animals isn't exactly good PR for a science organization nowadays.
“We are pleased with the results of Yale’s analysis,” Will Roseman, executive director of the Explorers Club, told the Associated Press.
“The mindset 65 years ago and today has dramatically changed and what was obviously a unique event decades ago, has given way to a determined effort to introduce people to the foods that can sustain mankind well into the future.”