DNA Analysis Shows Legendary Explorers Club Dinner Didn’t Actually Include Woolly Mammoth Or Giant Sloth

In the days before DNA testing and the Internet, it was possible to get away with telling people you’re serving them prehistoric animals for dinner. Not so much now, as scientific research has shown that a legendary Explorers Club dinner from 1951 that offered “prehistoric meats” didn’t really serve members giant sloth, as the menu had it, or woolly mammoth, as legend had it.

While it sounds somewhat reasonable that some brave explorer had stumbled upon a preserved, extinct animal capable of providing exotic meat, a Yale researcher says DNA analysis shows that the fist-sized piece of meat served at The Explorers Club Gala actually came from a sea turtle.

“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,” Jessica Glass, a Yale graduate student and co-lead author of a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, told the Associated Press.

While the menu listed sloth — alongside Pacific spider crabs, green turtle soup, and bison steaks — a news report that ran soon after the event noted that the “chief attraction at the smorgasbord was a morsel of 250,000-year-old hairy mammoth meat,” and the rumor spread.

Researchers were able to get their hands on the meat in question in 2014 because one of the members couldn’t attend the dinner that night, and asked for a piece of the food to be sent to him. It was labeled “Megatherium,” or giant sloth, but the mammoth story survived through the years.

The researchers’ work was funded by a grant from the Explorers Club, which says it’s pleased that people weren’t really consuming rare, prehistoric animals willy-nilly. The organization is made up of conservationists and environmentalists devoted to protecting the earth.

“We are pleased with the results of Yale’s analysis,” Will Roseman, executive director of the Explorers Club told the AP. “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.”

Mystery meat: Was it really woolly mammoth on the menu? [Associated Press]