French woman Jeanne Calment who died at the age of 122, and is considered the oldest person ever to have lived, may be a fraud. The French scientists who originally validated her title before her death in 1997, rushed to her defence on January 3, dismissing new Russian claims that she did not really survive to the age of 122.
Russian mathematician Nikolay Zak and gerontologist Valeri Novosselov said, in fact, that her daughter Yvonne took on her mother’s identity decades earlier in a tax avoidance scheme. However, the French validation team called the accusation a “ridiculous controversy”.
Nikolay Zak accused them of ignoring the evidence. “I think the validators themselves suspected that there was a change of identity,” said Zak. “When I talked to them during my research, their replies were very strange. They said one thing, then they changed their minds, then avoided me, pretending to be in another country, even though they were in France, and said they forgot and so on.”
Zak cited discrepancies between the colour of Jeanne Calment’s eyes, her height and the shape of her forehead, comparing a copy of a 1930s identity card to her appearance later in life.
But as of now, the record stands, in line with official French documents which actually state Jeanne Calment was born in 1875 – and definitely long outlived her daughter Yvonne.
Calment married a distant wealthy cousin and outlived her daughter Yvonne, who died of pneumonia in the early 1930s according to official documents, her husband, and a grandson, before passing away in Arles, southern France, on 4 August 1997, earning her place in the Guinness Book of Record.
Jean-Marie Robine, one of two French scientists who validated Calment’s age, told France Inter radio the stir caused by the Russians’ findings was a “ridiculous controversy”. Another, gerontologist Michel Allard, rejected the Russians’ conclusions over her physical appearance in later life.
(With inputs from Agencies)