What's the oldest anyone has ever lived

Jeanne Calment: Guess how old the oldest person was

For age researchers it was considered a miracle: Jeanne Calment died in 1997 at the age of 122 and has been the oldest person in the world ever since. Read here what her long life was like and why researchers accused the French woman of fraud.

Jeanne Calment: The oldest person who ever lived

Jeanne Louise Calment was born on February 21, 1875 in Arles, France. Her father was a shipbuilder, her mother a housewife. She grew up with her brother, who was ten years her junior.

On April 8, 1896, at the age of 21, she married Fernand Nicolas Calment (1868–1942). He was a wealthy shopkeeper and a second cousin, which explains the same surname. Fernand enabled Jeanne Calment to never have to work much and to pursue hobbies such as tennis, cycling, swimming or playing the piano. They had a daughter together in 1898, named Yvonne, who died of pneumonia at the young age of 36. However, a few years before her death, Yvonne had given birth to a son, whom Jeanne later raised on her own.

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Jeanne Calment spent a largely carefree life in sunny and warm Arles. She never went to the doctor, although she smoked until she was 114. In 1942, Jeanne Calment's husband died of food poisoning. The widow, however, remained enterprising and started fencing when she was 85. At the age of 90 she went to the old people's home, where she lived even longer than she probably dared to think at first.

Calment first gained international fame at the age of 113 when she reported on how she met the painter Vincent van Gogh in 1889 at the age of 14. He bought painting supplies in a shop where she worked. However, according to her statements, she faced a dirty, badly dressed and rude person. She also remembered the construction of the Eiffel Tower.

When reporters asked her how she got so old, she always replied with the same sentence: "God just forgot about me." Jeanne Calment survived all of her relatives and is exactly 122 years and 164 days old when God remembers her on August 4th, 1997.

Researchers doubted their age

However, many age researchers questioned their age. Two Russian scientists in particular considered it very likely in 2018 that it was not Jeanne Calment who died in 1997 at the age of 122, but her only daughter Yvonne at the age of 99. They researched biographies, interviews and photos, eyewitness reports and the publicly available official data of their hometown Arles. In doing so, they came to the conclusion that it couldn't be Jeanne.

In 2019, however, scientists from Denmark, France and Switzerland refuted this. With documents from the Calment family, they proved that Jeanne, who died in 1997, was almost certainly herself. With a document that proves that Yvonne Calment died in 1934 at the age of only 36, they proved that the 122-year-old was definitely not the daughter.

The scientists explain the old age of the French woman by "a good genetic defect and lucky circumstances". The average age of people increases over the years. The researchers therefore believe it is possible that someone will soon be able to break this age record. By the way, the oldest man in the world was 112 years old. He only passed away this year.

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