Yale Grad Students Debunk 1951 Dinner-Party Legend

A hoax of mammoth proportions is revealed
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2016 8:33 AM CST
Mammoth researcher Adrian Lister poses for photographs looking at Lyuba, a baby woolly mammoth, at the Natural History Museum in London, Monday, May 19, 2014.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

(Newser) – The Explorers Club Annual Dinner in New York—now going on its 112th year—has long treated its guests to exotic food items, including in more recent years deep-fried tarantulas, goat eyeball martinis, and the barbecued sex organs of bulls, reports the Atlantic. But the most famous meal of all was back in 1951, when host Wendell Phillips Dodge was said to have thrown the "dinner party of the century," as NPR puts it. He was always a bit hazy about what the protein portion actually was, and accounts vary, but the debate has focused on either woolly mammoth or the extinct giant ground sloth Megatherium. Now two grad students at Yale reported Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE that either claim amounts to a grand hoax, because the guests were in fact eating green sea turtle.

They know this because they sequenced the tiny amount of usable DNA found in a nearly forgotten specimen housed since 2001 at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. That specimen was preserved only because one of the guests, taxidermist Paul Howes, was unable to attend the much-anticipated meal and requested that a portion be set aside in a bottle of preservative for his own posterity. In hindsight, the hoax is not so surprising. Dodge was a notorious showman, not a paleontologist, reports NPR, and he'd set the stage for the dinner with stories of two famous explorers discovering the ancient specimen in Alaska. While some found the meat tough and flavorless, others likened it to veal; all surely enjoyed letting their imaginations run wild. (This woman was arrested for harassing a sea turtle.)

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