Did they (they!) serve frozen mammoth to the Explorers Club on that famous evening in 1951? A new study, to be presented next week, claims to have the answer. And that answer is: Nay, nay, it was green turtle.
The study is:
“Was Frozen Mammoth or Giant Ground Sloth Served for Dinner at the Explorers Club?” Matt Davis, Jessica R. Glass [pictured here], Timothy J. Walsh, Eric J. Sargis, and Adalgisa Caccone, 2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015), Paper No. 327-16. (Thanks to Casey Burns for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Yale University, report:
Accounts of woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) preserved so well in ice that their meat is still edible have a long history of intriguing the public and influencing paleontological thought on Quaternary extinctions and climate, with some scientists resorting to catastrophism to explain the instantaneous freezing necessary to preserve edible meat. In one famous case that is often regarded as true, members of The Explorers Club purportedly dined on a frozen mammoth collected by notable polar explorers in Alaska, USA in 1951. This event, well received by the press and general public, became an enduring legend for the Club and started the notorious annual tradition of serving rare and exotic food at Club dinners that continues to this day. The Yale Peabody Museum holds a sample of meat preserved from the 1951 meal, interestingly labeled not as a mammoth but as a South American giant ground sloth (Megatherium). We sequenced a fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene and studied archival material to verify its identity, which if genuine, would extend the range of Megatherium over 600% and alter our views on ground sloth evolution. Numerous historical reports do corroborate the identification of the meat as sloth. However, our results indicate that the meat was not mammoth or Megatherium but surprisingly, green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). The prehistoric feast was likely an elaborate publicity stunt that gained legendary status over time. Our study emphasizes the value of museums collecting and curating voucher specimens, particularly those used to substantiate extraordinary claims.
UPDATE (2016): The full version was published in PLoS ONE 11(2), 2016, e0146825.