Do I Detect A Hint Of Turtle?


In 1951 the Explorers Club hosted a legendary dinner in New York with a menu that featured sea turtle soup, Pacific spider crabs, bison, and prehistoric meat that had been preserved in glacier ice. The popular myth says that the diners were served 250,000 year old woolly mammoth meat that had been collected by Reverend Bernard Hubbard (also known by the awesome nickname “Glacier Priest”) and shipped to New York. Other diners believed they were eating meat from the long extinct giant ground sloth (also called megatherium), but according to a DNA analysis done by students at Yale University neither are true! The scientists were able to test a piece of the meat that had been preserved and sent to an Explorers Club member who was unable to attend the dinner. After some careful DNA testing, made complicated because the meat was cooked, they discovered that the mystery meat was in fact…. (drum roll please) green sea turtle! Perhaps the cooks had some leftover after making the soup and decided to put it to use.

Not only does this discovery uncover the humorous truth behind a popular myth, but it also demonstrates the value of different scientific fields coming together to use museum collections. I am sure the dinner organizers never thought that a piece of their “fake” meat would survive till 2016 for DNA testing, but thanks to the collections at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History we were able to solve this fascinating mystery!

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Feb 9, 2016

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