The menu for the annual 1951 Explorers Club dinner, held in the grand ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, featured an entree of “prehistoric meat.” The Christian Science Monitor reported that after dining, the members were told they had just consumed meat that came from a 250,000-year-old hairy mammoth. Was it true? A piece survived and recently underwent DNA analysis. The result was as surprising as the menu.
The Explorers Club was founded in New York City in 1904 as a professional society for scientists and explorers. The current headquarters is at 46 East 70th Street on the Upper East Side, where it houses a vast collection of artifacts … but not the mammoth meat.
Commander Wendell Phillips Dodge, promoter of the 1951 annual banquet, claimed the hairy mammoth meat came from Woolly Cove on the Akutan Island, one of the Aleutians. Member Paul Griswold Howes of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, missed the dinner but was sent a doggy bag containing a piece of the meat. Instead of eating it, he put it on display at the museum where it stayed until 2001 when it was moved to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut.
The ‘men who ate mammoth’ story persisted, even though the sample Howes received was actually labeled “Megatherium,” which was a prehistoric giant sloth. What it either or something else? Leave it to a college student to find out.
According to their study published this week in PLOS ONE, Yale grad student Jessica Glass and fellow student Matt Davis applied for and received a grant in 2014 from the Explorers Club to analyze the meat. They found that the genetic profile was not hairy mammoth. Nor was it prehistoric giant sloth. The main course that night in 1951 was … green sea turtle of the non-prehistoric kind.
The news was a relief to Will Roseman, the current executive director of the Explorers Club, which is now made up of conservationists, environmentalists and others devoted to, among other things, not eating frozen remains of extinct species.
We are pleased with the results of Yale's analysis. 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.
Whatever it was, they probably thought it tasted like chicken.