ONE NIGHT IN 1984, a handful of fortunate visitors congregated at the Alaska residence of paleontologist Dale Guthrie to dine on a once-in-a-lifetime delicacy: stew made from the neck meat of an ancient, newly-discovered bison dubbed Blue Babe.
Since state law prohibits the purchasing, selling, and bartering of game meats, local staples like caribou stew are unavailable in restaurants. These delicacies are served at gatherings hosted by hunters. However, their primary source of flesh is the moose population, not a piece of preserved biological history.
Five years ago, gold miners discovered Blue Babe after noticing that a hydraulic mining pipe dissolved some of the muck that had kept the bison frozen. They informed the adjacent University of Alaska Fairbanks of their findings. Concerned that it would decompose, Guthrie, who was a university professor and researcher at the time, decided to promptly unearth Blue Babe. However, the frigid, impenetrable environment made that difficult. Therefore, he removed what he could, refroze it, and waited for the head and neck to defrost.
Josh Reuther, curator of archaeology, and Francois B. Lano, professor at the University of Arizona, collect a sample from Blue Babe for the ongoing redating project. University of Alaska Museum of the North
Soon thereafter, Guthrie and his team brought Blue Babe to campus and began learning more about the prehistoric animal. Radiocarbon dating allowed them to determine that it had succumbed approximately 36,000 years ago. Josh Reuther, curator of archaeology at the university, asserts that Blue Babe is at least 50,000 years old, despite the fact that new research indicates that Blue Babe is older. Tooth marks and claw markings also suggested that the bison was slain by the Panthera leoatrox, an ancestor of the lion.
Blue Babe froze swiftly after its death, possibly due to a wintertime mortality. Researchers were astounded to discover that Blue Babe’s muscle tissue had maintained a similar texture to beef jerky despite being chilled. Additionally, its adipose epidermis and bone marrow remained intact after thousands of years. So why not attempt consuming a portion?
It had been done before. “All of us working on this project had heard stories about the Russians excavating bison and mammoth in the Arctic that were sufficiently frozen to eat,” Guthrie says of a few infamous meals. “Therefore, we determined, ‘You know what we can do? “Prepare a meal with this bison.”
When taxidermist Eirik Granqvist completed his work on Blue Babe and the late Bjorn Kurtén was in town to deliver a lecture, Guthrie decided to host a special dinner. “Making neck steak didn’t sound like a very good idea,” recalls Guthrie. However, if we added a great deal of vegetables and seasonings, it wouldn’t be too terrible.
Guthrie cut off a small portion of the bison’s neck, where the flesh had been preserved when it was still fresh, in order to prepare stew for approximately eight individuals. He once wrote, “When it thawed, it emitted an unmistakable beef aroma, not unpleasantly mixed with a trace of the soil in which it was discovered and a hint of mushroom.” The matured meat was then seasoned with a generous amount of garlic, shallots, carrots, and potatoes. With the addition of wine, it became a complete meal.
Guthrie, who is a hunter, says he was not deterred by the age of the bison or the possibility of becoming ill. “Only a very specific type of microorganism could make me sick,” he explains. “I frequently consume frozen meat from animals that I or my neighbors have killed.” And they do become somewhat stale after three years stored in the freezer.”
Everyone who was present survived, and the bison is still on display at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. According to Guthrie, the Blue Babe stew was also not unpleasant. “It tasted somewhat like what I had anticipated, with a hint of mud,” he says. However, it was not that terrible. Not so awful that each of us could not have a serving.” However, he cannot recall if anyone present had seconds.