Pity the poor quahog. I have a longstanding passion for the lowly hard-shelled clam: so savory in chowder, so delectable when baked and stuffed. The idea that some of the Icelandic cousins of my beloved Buzzard's Bay quahogs were alive before the Pilgrims decided they would make a good side dish at the first Thanksgiving frankly never occurred to me before this week, when scientists revealed that a specimen of Arctica Islandica was dredged up from the sea floor that researchers believe was between 405 and 410 years old.
This unassuming 90mm shell sat quietly feeding and adding calcium in minute but measurable rings from the last years of Queen Elizabeth's reign until a year ago in June, when scientists determined that it was the oldest known animal specimen alive on earth. Regrettably, the past tense is appropriate, for the clam had to be killed in order to study it. News of this ancient bivalve has captured the attention of the media as well as the "naughty thumb of science" that yearns to extract the secrets of its extraordinary longevity, but I, like Carroll's Carpenter, shed a bitter tear that the oldest of the old is no longer among the living, out there beyond the briny beach.