According to the online version of the Patten text, the source is Ivan T. Sanderson, “Riddle of the Quick-Frozen Giants,” Saturday Evening Post, Jan 16, 1960, p. 82. You will remember Sanderson as the fringe writer whose claims about ancient giants launched David Childress on the path of accusing the Smithsonian of a vast conspiracy. He seems to be an unreliable source, but one who gave more than his share of bad ideas immortality. Hapgood got his information from Sanderson.
Anyway, an offshoot of this claim is the recurring story that some of these mammoths became frozen dinners for European royalty, groups of scientists, or some combination thereof.
I bring this up because of a new report that finds that the most recent of these claims was a hoax. Legend has it that in 1951 the Explorer’s Club served meat from a frozen mammoth, as you can read in this 2014 Mental Floss article that takes the story at least somewhat seriously. But a new analysis of the preserved remains of that dinner (don’t ask why anyone kept the leftovers for 65 years) determined that the food was actually turtle, which had been passed off not as mammoth but as megatherium, an extinct ground sloth. The Christian Science Monitor misunderstood what a megatherium was in 1951 and reported that the food was mammoth, causing the legend.
But this is far from the only mammoth dinner to be little more than hot air. The most popular such dinner allegedly took place shortly after the excavation of the Beresovka mammoth in Russia in 1901. Scientists were rumored to have supped lavishly on the fresh-frozen meat. However, I.P. Tolmachoff looked into the story in 1929 and found that it had been greatly exaggerated. “Although some of flesh recovered from the cadavers were ‘fibrous and marbled with fat’ and looked ‘as fresh as well-frozen beef or horsemeat,’ only dogs showed any appetite for it; ‘the stench . . . was unbearable,’” he wrote in a scholarly article. One scientist tried to taste the meat, but found himself unable to hold down the putrid flesh.
From this, a legend arose that Prof. Otto Herz, who mounted the mammoth for the Tsar’s Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, treated the imperial family to a feast of mammoth flesh, with side dishes brought from archaeological finds around the world, such as preserved grain from Egyptian tombs. While this is a lovely story of the wretched excess of the Romanoff dynasty, it is unfortunately completely untrue.
Nevertheless, the story was popular enough that it took on a life of its own, in various versions. In October 1959, Boy’s Life magazine told its young readers in an article on mammoths that they were frozen solid in blocks of ice. It quoted a college professor, identified only as Elmer, as saying “I once met a man who ate mammoth meat at a banquet of the Czar Nicholas of Russia during the first World War. How do you suppose that happened?”
I suppose it happened because people like to tell tall tales, and some none-too-critical thinkers repeated them from the better part of a century. It never ceases to amaze me how stories keep getting repeated without any fact-checking.