The Explorers Club Once Served Mammoth at a Meal. Or Did It?
The story of the 1951 annual Explorers Club dinner is famous, at least among explorers, paleontologists and connoisseurs of exotic cuisine. In brief, mammoth was served.
A club member and journalist reported on the menu shortly afterward in The Christian Science Monitor, and club members have been talking about it ever since.
一位做记者的俱乐部会员不久后在《基督教科学箴言报》(The Christian Science Monitor)上对这份菜单进行了报道。从那时起，俱乐部会员们就一直在谈论此事。
“At my first dinner, when I was a new member, they told me about it,” said Jack Horner, a dinosaur paleontologist at Montana State University and an inspiration for the character of the paleontologist in the original “Jurassic Park” book. “And they were talking about having another.”
“在我作为新会员的第一顿晚宴上，他们告诉我这事儿的。”杰克·霍纳(Jack Horner)说道，他是一位来自蒙大拿州立大学(Montana State University)研究恐龙的古生物学家，也是《侏罗纪公园》原著中古生物家角色的原型。“他们还说要再吃一回。”
Sadly, as with so many great stories, this one was too good to be true, as a group of Yale researchers reported Wednesday in the journal PLOS One. Fortunately, the tale they uncovered, using the most modern research techniques, has some of its own surprises.
The story has to begin with the meat itself, originally billed on the menu as Megatherium, an extinct ground sloth, but recalled over the decades as mammoth, perhaps because that was what it was called in the article in The Monitor. What it was finally determined to be will, of course, have to wait until the end of the story.
Eating fossil meat may seem hazardous, but animals that died thousands of years ago have been found frozen, and the Yale researchers point to credible reports of paleontologists sampling the ancient flesh of extinct bison and mammoth. Care is called for, however, since the meat may have rotted before the cold preserved it.
The reason it was even possible to check what the diners ate is that some leftovers ended up on a shelf in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
之所以能够确认当时宾客吃了什么，是因为当时吃剩的食物最后出现在耶鲁大学皮博迪自然史博物馆(Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History)的展架上。
Paul Griswold Howes, a club member, was unable to make the 1951 dinner, which must have been a great disappointment because, as the researchers note, the annual dinners have made the club “as well known for its notorious hors d’oeuvres like fried tarantulas and goat eyeballs as it is for its notable members such as Teddy Roosevelt and Neil Armstrong.”
俱乐部会员之一保罗·格里斯沃尔德·豪斯(Paul Griswold Howes)没有去成1951年的晚宴，这一定成为了很大的遗憾，因为研究者表示，一年一度的晚宴上”像炸毒蜘蛛和山羊眼球这样的开胃菜，让这个俱乐部像他们的著名会员——比如西奥多·罗斯福(Teddy Roosevelt)和尼尔·阿姆斯特朗(Neil Armstrong)——一样出名。”
Mr. Howes was, however, the curator-director at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., and even if he could not attend the dinner, he wanted to exhibit some of it at the museum. So Wendell Phillips Dodge, a theater impresario who had organized the dinner, sent Mr. Howes a sample, which he labeled Megatherium.
不过，豪斯当时是位于康涅狄格州格林威治的布鲁斯博物馆(Bruce Museum)的馆长，即使没能参加晚宴，他也想在博物馆里展出当时的一些东西。所以，温德尔·菲利普斯·道奇(Wendell Phillips Dodge)，一位组织那次晚宴的剧院经理，给了豪斯一个被标为“大地懒”的样本。
That sample found its way to the Peabody in 2001, prompting years of puzzlement among students and professors. Was this jar of ethanol with a bit of flesh really cooked, extinct ground sloth from Alaska?
Recently, Matt Davis, a graduate student at Yale studying ice age ecology and one of the authors of the new paper, was having lunch with Eric Sargis, another author, who was giving a course in mammalogy. Mr. Davis was a teaching assistant for the course, and at the lunch, Dr. Sargis lamented, “It’s amazing that I can’t get anybody interested in the piece of sloth meat we have.”
最近，耶鲁大学研究冰川时代生态学的研究生，也是那篇新论文的作者之一的马特·戴维斯(Matt Davis)，与该论文的另一位作者、哺乳动物学老师埃里克·萨吉斯(Eric Sargis)吃了顿午饭。戴维斯是萨吉斯这门课的助教，午饭时候，萨吉斯博士哀叹道，“太吃惊了，我竟然无法让任何人对我们这块地懒肉感兴趣。”
Mr. Davis recalled, “I was immediately hooked.”
DNA analysis was called for, and they recruited Jessica R. Glass, another graduate student, and the first author on the paper, whose day job is studying the genetics of marine fish. As an undergraduate at Yale, she said, “I always knew about this specimen,” adding, “I was fascinated by it.”
他们觉得需要做基因分析，于是又招募一位研究生杰西卡·R·格拉斯(Jessica R. Glass)，她是这篇论文的第一作者，本职工作是研究深海鱼类的遗传规律。她说，曾经是耶鲁本科生时，“我对这个物种就一直有了解”，并补充道，“它让我着迷。”
She and other scientists joined the team. They assumed the flesh was thousands of years old, which meant that testing for DNA was more complicated than testing a more recent bit of flesh. “Also,” she said, “the meat was cooked.”
There was some legitimate science to be done. If the meat was really Megatherium, that would extend the species’ known range from South America all the way to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
In the end, after multiple tests, the team determined that the meat was neither mammoth nor sloth, nor ancient, nor even a mammal. Turtle soup had also been on the menu that night, before sea turtles were in such trouble, and the bit of flesh that the scientists tested turned out to be green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas.
It seems that Mr. Dodge had been having a bit of fun, and that he was the only one in on the joke.
“I do want to point out that it wasn’t a big hoax from the Explorers Club,” Ms. Glass added.
Mr. Dodge even confessed, sort of. In a club publication soon after the dinner, he seemed to say that he had passed off turtle as sloth. The scientists write that he “fancifully described the sloth’s fossil history but hinted that he may have discovered ‘a potion by means of which he could change, say, Cheylone mydas Cheuba [sic] from the Indian Ocean into Giant Sloth.’”
But nobody paid attention to him, and the story persisted.
Several of the researchers are members of the Explorers Club, which gave grants to support the DNA analysis and research.
Will Roseman, the club’s executive director, said it was pleased with the research, although he pointed out that the world and the club had both changed since 1951, and the old taste for the exotic “has given way to a determined effort to introduce people to the foods that can sustain mankind well into the future.”