Monday 21 January 2019

World's oldest ever person 'never made 122' and assumed her mother's identity, controversial new research claims

Jeanne Calment poses with a certificate from the Guiness Book of Records stating that she has passed the absolute world record with her 120 years and 239 days
(Photo by Georges GOBET / AFP)GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
Jeanne Calment poses with a certificate from the Guiness Book of Records stating that she has passed the absolute world record with her 120 years and 239 days (Photo by Georges GOBET / AFP)GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

Richard Lough

TWO French scientists who validated Jeanne Calment’s status as the oldest person ever to have lived have dismissed claims by Russian researchers who say that she didn’t really survive to 122.

Mathematician Nikolay Zak and gerontologist Valery Novoselov claim that Calment’s daughter, Yvonne Calment, assumed her mother’s identity decades earlier.

The Russians analysed photographs, official documents and interviews to produce a body of evidence they acknowledge is circumstantial.

Jean-Marie Robine, one of the two French scientists who validated Calment’s age, said that the stir now being caused in France by the Russians’ findings was a “ridiculous controversy”.

A spokesman for Guinness World Records, which registered Calment’s age as a world record, said they were aware of the Russians’ claims.

“Extensive research is performed for every oldest person record title we verify, which is led by experts in gerontology, the scientific study of old age, and they have been notified of the current situation,” a spokesman said.

In a paper for the Moscow Centre For Continuous Mathematical Education, Zak cites discrepancies between the colour of Jeanne Calment’s eyes, her height and the shape of her forehead in a copy of a 1930s identity card and in her appearance later in life.

“I do not have cast-iron proof,” Zak told reporters in Moscow. “I reviewed the whole situation. There are lots of small pieces of evidence.”

The second French scientist who validated Calment’s age, gerontologist Michel Allard, acknowledged that even if far-fetched, the Russians’ conclusions should be given consideration, although he rejected their suggestions of discrepancies between early images of Calment and her appearance in later life.

“In the last years of Jeanne Calment’s life, I saw so many transformations of her physiognomy,” he said.

Jeanne Calment was born on February 21, 1875, more than a decade before the Eiffel Tower was built and a year before Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone.

She married a distant wealthy cousin and outlived her daughter Yvonne – who died of pneumonia in the early 1930s, according to official documents – as well as her husband and a grandson, before passing away on August 4, 1997.

Herald

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News