According to legend, a group of famous people met at a 5-star hotel in New York City in the early fifties and sat down to a meal of exotic foods, with the main course being a prime cut of Woolly Mammoth meat. Did it happen?
The story that members of the Explorers Club ate a mammoth at a dinner in 1951 is so widely circulated that it nearly every school child has heard the story now. The idea is that mammoth meat is so well preserved under the permafrost of Siberia and Alaska that it was not only edible, it was served at a very expensive meal at the Roosevelt Hotel on January 17, 1951. The original article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor with the following quote:
The grand ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel won’t serve food like that again this year.The Christian Science Monitor
In this particular case, the mammoth meat was supposed to come from mining mammoths (yes, that was and is literally a thing) from the permafrost of the Yukon Valley. The dinner consisted of many other exotic dishes including pacific spider crabs, american buffalo and filets of a 250,000 year old mammoth carcass.
According to members at the dinner, the meat was not available until the last minute when a Reverend Bernard Hubbard who was also known as the Glacier Priest offered access to his own private collection of mammoth meat from Akutan Island, which is near St. Paul Island as well as Wrangel Island, where the last known mammoths survived 1000 years after the Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids.
Interestingly enough, some people in attendance thought the meat was not from a mammoth but from another extinct animal, the ground sloth (also known as a Megatherium), a gigantic sloth which was part of the mega-fauna that went extinct due to human hunting and the impact of a large asteroid at the end of the last ice age.
The chief promoter of the event did not specify that the meat was from a mammoth. The promoter in question, Commander Wendell Phillips Dodge, had been an agent of the famous film star Mae West, who was also the leading sex symbol of the era, and his charisma was noted by many. He promoted the event as serving “prehistoric meat” which led to the confusion as to whether the meat was from a Woolly Mammoth or from a Megatherium.
Was it a Mammoth?
It is important to realize that none of the people in attendance at the dinner could have anticipated the advent and proliferation of DNA technology. In fact, DNA was not even discovered until later. However, a piece of the meat was kept which allowed scientists at Yale University to put the meat to the test.
The meat turned out not to be from a mammoth or a ground sloth. The meat was actually from a Green Sea Turtle, which was probably set aside from the turtle soup. To test the meat, they relied on a specimen left over from the dinner which was labeled as “giant sloth meat”. According to Yale Researchers:
“I’m sure people wanted to believe it. They had no idea that many years later, a Ph.D. student would come along and figure this out with DNA sequencing techniques,” said Jessica Glass, a Yale graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, and co-lead author of a study published Feb. 3 in the journal PLOS ONE.
“To me, this was a joke that no one got,” said Matt Davis, a Yale graduate student in geology and geophysics, who is the other co-lead author of the study. “It’s like a Halloween party where you put your hand in spaghetti, but they tell you it’s brains. In this case, everyone actually believed it.”
Could We Eat Mammoth Meat Now?
Apparently, many people have claimed to have eaten mammoth meat, including a Siberian zoologist who wrote a book about it in 2001 named Mammoth. According to him, he did eat the meat but that it tasted awful and smelled rotten. Knowing what we know now with freezer burn, we all known deep inside that it is definitely not going to be like a good steak.
However, there is another tantalizing accounts which is chronicled in the book Frozen Fauna of the Mammoth Steppe by a zoology professor from Alaska named Dale Guthrie. According to Guthrie, his team did indeed eat a 36,000 year old steppe bison known as “Blue Babe” which was found in 1979 near Fairbanks, Alaska by roasting the neck with vegetables. According to Guthrie, the meat was not very tender but it was edible.
For more about woolly mammoths and weird interactions with human beings, read our other article: