Saturday, January 19, 2019 | ePaper
World's oldest woman died at 122
The Washington Post :
Jeanne Calment died in 1997 in the southern French town in which she was born, and her death drew a flurry of attention.
At 122, an age that had been certified by the Guinness World Records as well as public health researchers, she was the oldest documented person to ever have lived.
But a Russian mathematician is casting doubt on her record. Nikolay Zak, of the Moscow Center For Continuous Mathematical Education, said in a report that he believes that Calment was actually Yvonne Calment, Jeanne's daughter, who had assumed her mother's identity to avoid inheritance taxes in the 1930s. That would have made her 99 when she died.
The evidence produced by Zak in a paper published recently on the portal ResearchGate is not definitive.
He points to studies that showed that Calment had lost less than an inch of her height by the time she was well into her hundreds, significantly less than what would have been expected; Yvonne was also taller than Jeanne, he says. A passport for Jeanne in the 1930s lists different eye colors for her than she had later in life. And he raises questions about other physical discrepancies in her forehead and chin. He also claims that Calment had destroyed photographs and other family documents when she had been requested to send them to the archives in Arles.
The study has caused a global stir since it was issued. It has been covered by news media organizations around the world. Sample headline: "Jeanne Calment cheater?" France Inter radio asked.
But it has been denounced by some scientists, including the Jean-Marie Robine, who validated Calment's age and wrote a book about her around the time of her death.
"All of this is incredibly shaky and rests on nothing," Robine told Le Parisien.
According to Smithsonian magazine, he said Jeanne answered questions when he interviewed her that only she would have known the answer to, like the name of her math teacher and housekeepers in her building at the time.
"Her daughter couldn't have known that," he said. And he said that the whole town of Arles would have been in on the ruse.
"Can you imagine how many people would have lied? Overnight, Fernand Calment [Jeanne's husband] would have passed his daughter for his wife and everyone would have kept silent?" Robine said. "It is staggering."