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Jeanne Calment: the secret of longevity

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  • Moscow Society of Naturalists

Abstract and Figures

Here, I challenge the validity of Jeanne Calment's universally accepted record of human lifespan. I assess the plausibility of the record based on the lifespans of other centenarians in the International Database of Longevity (IDL) and analyze and refute the arguments put forward by gerontologists in support of this record, such as the hereditary longevity of Jeanne's ancestors and her lifelong residence in the center of a small town. I review the literature dedicated to this reportedly oldest documented human being and reveal multiple contradictions in her interviews, biographies, photos, and documents. I suggest an explanation of these discrepancies based on the hypothesis that Jeanne's daughter Yvonne acquired her mother's identity after her death in order to avoid paying inheritance tax and that Jeanne Calment's death was reported by her family as Yvonne's death in 1934. I discuss the importance of reconsidering the principles of validation due to the possibility of similar problems regarding other long-lived people. The phenomenon of Jeanne Calment could also be used as an example of the vulnerability of seemingly well-established facts.
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Jeanne Calment: the secret of longevity
Nikolay Zak, Moscow, e-mail: kolyazak@gmail.com
Here, I challenge the validity of Jeanne Calment's universally recognized record of human lifespan
Keywords: Jeanne Calment, mortality plateau, supercentenarians, IDL, GRG
Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will
be a hundred and twenty years". - Genesis 6:3
"Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble
and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away", Moses (lived 120 years) - Psalm 90:10
"I want to prove … that the boundaries set up by the gods are not unbreakable",
Gilgamesh, clay tables (years of life unknown)
"He's forgotten me. He can't be in any hurry to see me. He knows me all too well."
Jeanne Calment [13] (lived 122 years and 164 days [31]).
Here, I challenge the validity of Jeanne Calment's universally accepted record of human lifespan. I
assess the plausibility of the record based on the lifespans of other centenarians in the International Database
of Longevity (IDL) and analyze and refute the arguments put forward by gerontologists in support of this
record, such as the hereditary longevity of Jeanne's ancestors and her life-long residence in the center of a
small town. I review the literature dedicated to this reportedly oldest documented human being and reveal
multiple contradictions in her interviews, biographies, photos, and documents. I suggest an explanation of
these discrepancies based on the hypothesis that Jeanne's daughter Yvonne acquired her mother's identity
after her death in order to avoid paying inheritance tax and that Jeanne Calment's death was reported by her
family as Yvonne's death in 1934. I discuss the importance of reconsidering the principles of validation due
to the possibility of similar problems regarding other long-lived people. The phenomenon of Jeanne Calment
could also be used as an example of the vulnerability of seemingly well-established facts.
Evaluation of the plausibility of Jeanne Calment's lifespan
A lot of attention was recently devoted to the dynamics of mortality in older ages (105 years and
older) [6, 11, 16, 18, 25]. A detailed analysis of these papers, and explanations for the causes of the
disagreements between some of them, was provided in [1]. For this evaluation, the only important
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consequence of this review is that none of these studies nor other studies revealed any decrease in mortality
with age, at least until the data become too scarce.
Most authors come to the conclusion that, for one reason or another, the force of mortality is almost
constant after 105 years. In addition, it has been observed that if validated supercentenarians have equal
chances to be recorded regardless of their age of death, the force of mortality does not vary much with sex,
country and year of birth [25].
It can be assumed that the expected yearly survival in a representative group of validated
supercentenarians (people who are at least 110 years old) does not exceed the annual survival of the Italians
born in 1904 during the period from 2009 to 2016, approximately half of whom died during any year of
follow-up observation [6].
Thus, the probability of the event that anybody from a group G consisting of N supercentenarians
would be alive after t years is not higher than
P (t, G) = 1 - (1 - 0.5t)N.
Jeanne Louise Сalment had been alive for 12 years and 164 days after her 110th anniversary and was
under close (and growing with age) scrutiny from the general public and the scientific community. Jeanne
was born on February 21, 1875. All the other 48 supercentenarians in the French section of the International
Database of Longevity (IDL) containing verified supercentenarians [24] listed on
www.supercentenarians.org were born later than the person under the ID number 584, whose lifespan
corresponds to that of Jeanne Calment.
Thus, the first (by date of birth) French woman to be validated as a supercentenarian by a large
project searching for long-lived people (funded by the Ipsen foundation ) achieved the world record. If we
consider the group G to be all the members of IDL born before 1876 (N=80), then P (t, G) ≈ 0.0141. The
longest-lived member of the simulated population consisting of 80 or even 5000 individuals who have a
constant force of mortality, and half of whom die every year, did not live as long as the longest-lived
member of group G. At the same time, the survival curve of the Italian cohort after 105 years (ISTAT data)
and the survival curve of the group G after 110 years without Calment do not differ much from the
simulations (Fig. 1).
The second place in this group (and the first one among all the validated long-lived people of African
descent) belongs to Lucy Hannah (7 years and 248 days). Similar to the majority of the US
supercentenarians in the IDL [18], her validation was based on archive data, such as censuses, which can
hardly be considered as reliable age confirmation [2]. Independent researchers from the 110club forum
discovered that she was probably 20 years younger than her claim https://the110club.com/what-was-lucy-
hannah-39-s-actual-age-t16664.html, but she is still present in the IDL and GRG databases.
Robert Young noted in a Facebook conversation that the study of French supercentenarians was
inspired by Jeanne Calment, so it is not correct to consider her exceptional age in the context of the other
supercentenarians. Nevertheless, she became well known to the gerontological community as an
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exceptionally long-lived person already in 1989 [5]. From that time, her personal likelihood of living until
1997 was less than 0.5%.
The reasons for the gerontological community's confidence in Jeanne Calment's record
While gerontologists acknowledge Jeanne Calment's case as unique, and some authors mention the
low probability of surpassing this record in coming decades [7, 16], the validity of her result seems to be
very well established. Madame Calment was rigorously verified by the gerontologists and demographers
[13] who have found her name in numerous censuses of the commune of Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône,
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France) and other documents. She also became famous for settling a life
annuity deal with the notary André-François Raffray in 1965, and he apparently had no doubts about her age
[4].
Raffray had to pay 2500 francs monthly in exchange for acquiring her apartment in the center of
Arles, where she has been counted in censuses since her marriage in 1896. The annuity was calculated
according to the life expectancy of 90-year-old French women in 1965, which was around three years. Thus,
the notary and, after his death in 1995, his widow Huguette Raffray had to pay 11 times more than they
expected. According to Huguette, whom I have called recently, the apartment was sold immediately after the
death of Jeanne, and she does not know who the buyer was.
Jeanne Calment lived in the same house as one of the largest drapery stores in the region, Nouveautés
- Calment, which was run by her spouse (and cousin) Fernand Calment, so Jeanne should have been
constantly seen by the commune. This belief can be traced back to Robine and Allard's validation report on
Jeanne Calment's lifespan [14], where the authors claim that, apparently, the whole time between her
wedding and moving to the nursing home, Jeanne had been living in the house where her husband's store
was located. Moreover, they write that Nouveautés - Calment still exists at the same location on Gambetta
Street. It was hard to imagine how Madame Calment could successfully lie about her age while living in the
center of a small town.
In fact, the commune of Arles is the largest commune in France, with a surface almost 9 times the
surface of Paris. It incorporates several nearby villages where the wealthy inhabitants (including the
Calments) used to have country houses. The population of the commune of Arles was around 24000 people
in 1875 and almost doubled by 1997, while there are around 380 inhabitants in a median French commune.
According to her biographies and mortgage documents, Calment had many other places in several
communes to live in, and her favorite property was La Miquelette, a villa in the village of Paradou near
Arles [9]. There is now only a renewed historical sign on the façade of the Maison Calment, the house where
the store was formerly located. Contrary to what is asserted in [14], the drapery store itself has been
permanently closed since 1937 [9], and now there is a supermarket, Casino, in that location.
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Town or village?
According to the biography of Calment [9], just before the start of World War I, when Jeanne was
almost 40 years old while her daughter Yvonne was around 16, she went hunting with Fernand for the first
time. She liked hunting so much that she acquired the masculine nickname "Jean Calment" (in French, the
names Jeanne and Jean have the same pronunciation) and became a member of the male-only hunting club.
After that, she was going to master skis on the glaciers of Grenoble [9].
However, in another biography, we can read that Jeanne was already a huntress when she was 20
years old: "Do you remember how were you dressed at the time... when you were 20 years old for example?
Oh, you ask too much of me. You go too far! I led a man's life. I was a huntress, you understand. That will
surprise you." [5] I will try to resolve this inconsistency in the next sections.
Here are a few other excerpts of Madame Calment's interviews with her validators [5]: "My husband
liked walking, like me. Even at sixteen, I had good legs… How did you come to get married? Ah! That I
don't remember… You never thought about working with your husband? What I did do with my husband
was hunting. I was a huntress… That was my life, my man's life… I didn't like visiting, I didn't like
mundane life and I liked outdoor life, the life with my husband who was a hunter. I have a masculine nature.
I'm not afraid of anything… I was very strong; I was a man. My father said: My girl is a tomboy… Did you
help your husband in the shop? I never went there. I didn't take care of the business." She knew how to lead
a group of men, the hunting society, of which she was always very proud… She was nicknamed "Madame
Partridge". It's a subject she loves to talk about [5].
Such a lifestyle had shaped even the gait of Madame Calment. Here is one of the few statements
from outsiders who were in contact with Jeanne before she moved to the nursing home; this is an excerpt
from an interview of the former mayor of Arles, Jacques Perrot* [15]: "When I learned that a woman from
Arles was 100 years old, I was going to visit her, invite her family, and bring a gift. I received a polite but
firm rejection. Madame Calment did not want the ceremony, so the birthday passed unnoticed. Jeanne
finally called me back and agreed to come to the city hall herself… I waited for a long time for her at the
reception, until it turned out that one of the seated women, who did not appear to be more than eighty, was
the guest of honor. We did not agree on political views [The mayor was communist and she has never liked
this political group [5, 15]] but talked about common subjects… When she left the office, I noticed that she
had a hunter's gait." A resident of Arles Michele Gil also said that Jeanne Calment looked thirty years
younger than her age and had the gait of a young woman [9].
Madame Calment managed to stay in the shadows until she moved to a nursing home in 1985 when
she was almost 110 years old. Jean-Claude Lamy studied the archive of the local newspaper, Le Provençal,
in Arles and didn't find any mention of the new centenarian. Instead, the newspapers wrote about another
long-lived person who celebrated her 95th birthday in 1975 [15]. Jeanne's attitude completely changed in the
nursing home, where she adored the press, gifts, and parties and was not confused by the attention of
journalists. "I've waited 110 years to be famous. I intend to make the most of it for as long as possible." [13]
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Thus, Jeanne Calment does not satisfy the first criterion of validating long-lived people as proposed
by Robine and Allard [14]: a public declaration of reaching the age of 100 years or recognition of the
centenarian in the local press. They decided to make an exception for Calment because of the census in
1975, which listed her as born in 1875.
Jeanne's father, shipbuilder and town hall advisor Nicolas Calment, was a rich and influential man
who once employed 60 to 80 workers. As a child, Madame Calment spent a lot of time in his farms in Saint
Martin de Crau and Paradou. Nicolas grew different crops and made wine and goat cheese. Jeanne loved to
run in the fields and look after the cows [5].
In the early thirties, Jeanne and Fernand bought La Miquelette, a suburban villa in Paradou, for their
daughter Yvonne and her son Frédéric Billot (1926-1963). This villa had become a favorite dwelling of
Jeanne until she sold it after Frédéric's death [9]. The trail of Yvonne Calment was lost in 1931. According
to the 1931 census, the house on Gambetta Street was inhabited by homeowner Fernand Calment along with
his wife Maria (validators suggest that this is a typo and should be read as Jeanne), mother Maria Felix,
Yvonne's husband Joseph Billot, Yvonne's son Frédéric Billot, and two maids [14, 32]. The authors try to
explain the absence of Yvonne by a recopying error [14, 32], but the true reason could be different.
Anyway, one can see that the census information is not rigorous and can not prove anything.
According to the testimony of Pierre Maxence, son of Marius Maxence, the oldest employee of the
store Maison Calment who worked there for about thirty years until its closure in 1937, Madame Calment
almost never appeared there [22]. The fact that she is mentioned in many censuses at the address of the store
does not mean that she lived there all the time. According to validators, Jeanne is counted twice in the 1901
census: at St Martin de Crau and in Gambetta street in Arles [14, 32]. Moreover, her brother François was
also counted at St Martin de Crau in 1901 [14, 32] while being counted with his wife and daughter in
Toulon in the census kindly found for me by Cyril Depoudant (of note, Robine and Allard write that
François had no family and children [5]).
Obviously, then, as now, census takers trusted the property owner to tell them who was in residence;
personal presence was not required. The fact that censuses can't serve as a reliable source of information was
well established by Soviet gerontologists who were trying to validate long-lived people from Azerbaijan [2].
The phenomenon of Caucasian longevity was a subject of lots of papers and books, but it was based on a
shaky foundation: "Abkhazian long-lived people always willingly tell legends and traditions about national
heroes… But they do not like to talk about themselves, considering it extreme indiscretion. Therefore,
collecting information about their lifestyle is difficult." [3] Below, we will see that despite the apparent
differences, Madame Calment had much in common with these long-lived Abkhazians.
Analysis of interviews with the "Doyenne of humanity"
In her numerous interviews, Madame Calment discusses a lot of hard-to-check details of her
childhood, starting from the age of three, but does not mention the epidemic of cholera that devastated Arles
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in 1884 when Jeanne was 9 years old [5]. Jeanne often refused to talk about her family [5, 9]. The hearing of
the old woman deteriorated when the topic of conversation did not suit her. The validators state that
Madame Calment's "technique" in conversation was clear when she didn't have any answer to a question,
she answered with an obvious statement or generalization: when asked "What did your father do at the town
hall?" she replied, "What advisors do…" and when asked if her daughter was a pretty baby, she replied,
"All babies are beautiful” [5].
Here are some examples of inconsistencies that will be resolved later on: Did you ever meet Frédéric
Mistral? "Yes! Yes, he was a friend of my father… um, he was a friend of my husband." You told me that
Espartero died in front of you in Nimes. "Yes, the bull tore off his coat. Then he jumped on top of him. A
painful memory! Oh! Oh! The arena was packed!" [5] The validators wrote that they checked this
information and it was correct. However, the only famous Torero named Espartero I managed to find online
died in 1894 in Madrid: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Espartero.
According to the validators, Madame Calment didn't really become famous until 1988, when the
centennial of Vincent Van Gogh's stay in Arles was celebrated… Without the link to a famous artist, perhaps
she would have remained unknown. In 1994, the second-oldest French person died at the age of 113 years
without either having been studied or having received national recognition. But Jeanne Calment quickly
passed from local fame in Arles to worldwide fame [5]. In the Canadian film "Vincent and me"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ADIZoNQP78, which made Jeanne the oldest movie star, the 114-
year-old woman informs a young girl that she met the artist in her father's shop. Newspapers also
mentioned this father's shop: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1008681/Alcohol-cigarettes-
chocolates-sweets--The-secrets-long-life.html as well as the GRG website
http://www.grg.org/Gallery/1875Gallery.html and Robert Young on the 110 Club
https://web.archive.org/web/20170227010118/http://z3.invisionfree.com/The_110_Club/ar/t3663.htm.
However, Jeanne's father, Nicolas Calment, unlike Yvonne's father, Fernand Calment, never had any store.
For some reason, the validators did not become suspicious after this inconsistency. In the interview
[33], Jeanne makes another mistake: "My husband sold the canvases to Van Gogh… and introduced me to
him in the shop - 'here is my wife.'" This testimony can't be true since Jeanne was not married until the age
of 21, six years after the death of the painter.
When interpreting these kinds of statements, one should take into account that, despite the CT scan,
which showed marked temporal, parietal and occipital atrophy… the subject's performance on tests of
verbal memory and language fluency was comparable to that of persons with the same level of education in
their eighties and nineties... A high initial level of intellectual ability may have constituted a protective
factor... Geriatricians have often observed a relative stability in the health profiles of persons over 85 years,
as if this group of survivors, having lived beyond the years of highest risk for the major causes of mortality
in the elderly (cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia), experience a period relatively free of disease.
Death is commonly caused by increasing vulnerability to external trauma and difficulty in re-establishing
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homeostasis, a condition that may perhaps be labelled 'terminal frailty' [23]. Excellent cognitive abilities are
also emphasized by Jeanne's validators [5].
Here is another example of confusion: Gilles, whose name was that? "It's my grandmother's name,
my grandparent on my father's side." [5] After some discussion, she corrected herself and admitted that it
was her mother's side, but the important thing is that neither grandmother of Jeanne had a surname of Gilles:
actually, Gilles was the surname of her mother, who was the grandmother of her daughter Yvonne (in those
days, the wives did not take the husband's surname) and the grandfather of Jeanne on her mother's side.
There is another revealing story concerning the maternal grandmother: Dr. Georges Garoyan, in
response to my request to send me his dissertation about Jeanne, has kindly agreed to look for it
(unfortunately, he had not found it yet) and added that the most important condition for personal longevity is
a long-lived (at least 90 years) maternal grandmother. I was surprised by this response because Rose
Minaud, Jeanne's grandmother on her mother's side, lived to 72 years. However, many of her ancestors lived
relatively long, and below, I will discuss the possible causes of this phenomenon.
Analysis of longevity of the ancestors of Jeanne Calment
One of the common explanations of the extraordinary longevity of the "Doyenne of humanity" is her
extraordinary genetics. The validators write: "Many ancestors of Madame Calment could have been
unconsciously chosen (by the spouse or by their families) because they were carriers of genes favoring
longevity. Gradually, there would have been a concentration, a unique enrichment of this type of gene, to
permit such a long existence." [5] Here is an example of the widespread belief in these family roots of her
extraordinary lifespan: "Examination of her paternal and maternal ascendants show at least three generations
of exceptional longevity." [23]
Indeed, Caroline Boyer did an impressive job of studying the longevity of many generations of
Jeanne Calment's relatives, compared them to the control group of residents of Arles, and found that "infant
mortality was 27% in controls as compared to 15% in the Calment group; the life expectancy of the residents
of Arles was 27 years against the 41 years in the Calment group; the direct ancestors of Jeanne lived on
average 80 years compared to only 58 years for the ancestors of other members of her family of the same
generation." [5, 8]
Unfortunately, these authors do not provide the raw lifespan data of Calment's ancestors. With the
help of French researches Arnaud and Cyril from http://centenaires-francais.forumactif.org/, a forum on
French centenarians, I've got the lifespan data for four generations of the ancestors of Jeanne, 30 persons
born between 1723 (Vincent Calmen, great-grandfather of Nicolas Calment) and 1838 (Marguerite Gilles,
wife of Nicolas Calment). The average lifespan of these ancestors appears to be 72.3 years which is less than
declared 80, underscoring the importance of public availability of raw data of any scientific research.
It is easy to notice that representatives of the male line of the Calments, including Jeanne's father
Nicolas Calment, his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, who were all ship carpenters by profession,
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and their wives lived long lives. In addition, the parents of their wives lived for a long time as well. I
considered three groups of Jeanne's ancestors: the Calments and their wives; the Calments, their wives, and
their parents; and Jeanne's other ancestors, and drew the survival curves of these groups as well as synthetic
survival curves based on the death rates in France in 1875 and 2014 from the age of 31, when the first death
was recorded (Fig. 2).
The survival curves of the first two groups are almost indistinguishable, and the third group
experiences much higher mortality in young ages. Apparently, the longer lifespan of the family members of
ship carpenters was due to a more favorable environment: prosperity, quality of food, the ability to escape
from an epidemic by retreating to a country house (during the cholera epidemic in 1884, the Calment family
was living in their "mas" in Saint Martin de Crau [5]), respect in society. The low infant mortality among the
Calments' relatives could also be explained by a large number of midwives in this family [5].
However, the survival of Jeanne's ancestors after 70 years is not impressive, and none of her
ancestors had reached 95 years. The life expectancy in Monaco is now approaching 90 years, and I was able
to contact several living people who knew Jeanne and are at least 90 years old. Analysis of the lifespans of
twins who were separated and grew up in different families [17], numerous genealogies [26], and analyses
of complete genomes of supercentenarians [12] question the contribution of genetic differences to human
lifespan.
Caroline Boyer, who performed the archive work concerning Jeanne's validation and genealogy on
behalf of Robine and Allard gave me the information about the more distant ancestors of the Calments. It
turned out that Vincent Calment (1723-1808) was the founder of a dynasty of carpenters. His father was a
hostler and died at the age of 68 years, and his grandfather was a worker and died at 50 years. Other
ancestors of Vincent also could not boast longevity.
Jeanne and her daughter Yvonne who is who?
Despite the widespread belief in the reliability of Jeanne's record, clinical gerontologist Valery
Novoselov was very skeptical because of the phenotype of the "doyenne of humanity", which, in his
professional opinion, corresponded to a much younger age. Novoselov conducted a poll on his Facebook
which asked participants to estimate the age (with an accuracy of a year) of the lady on this photo:
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1679131822208934&set=a.218820481573416&type=3&theater.
It was a photo taken by journalists during the celebration of the 117th anniversary of Jeanne Calment
(Fig. 4C), but the 224 users did not know who it was (very rare connoisseurs were filtered by hand). The
average result was 95 years, the age of Yvonne Calment - the only daughter of Jeanne who presumably died
in 1934. Jeanne reluctantly answered questions about her daughter, and here are a few excerpts from [5]: the
daughter and the mother shared characteristics in their behavior, their liveliness, their gaitDid she like
hunting? "...I didn't think about it myself. She liked music, that's all. I played piano duets with her. The
usual." Do you remember her illness? "We took her to . . . . Oh! I don't recall any more" …Did she die at
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home or in the hospital? "At home. When she came back from the hospital, it was Advent and she came to
die at home."
Caroline Boyer and Cyril Depoudent confirmed that a noticeable portion of the French population of
that time was not using the names given to them at birth. Jeanne and Yvonne are variants of the same name
of Ioanna, the female form of Ioan (Ivan in Russian, John in English). Probably, Madame Calment preferred
the variant that differed from the one she was given at birth. As mentioned above, she used the nickname
Jean for membership in the hunter society.
Nicolas Calment was not only a grandfather but also the godfather of Yvonne, so Jeanne's living
memories of her father, which she shared in her interviews [5], might well have a real background. Her close
relationship with her godfather could play a role in the identity switch. Nicolas was active in old age; he was
the founder of an anti-German society during World War I [15]. In [27], there is a photo of Nicolas and his
wife Marguerite Gilles (https://1drv.ms/b/s!AveUlZgMErhBi4sFaLwZLEPw2_yEpg, page 51) to the left of the
photos of the young Jeanne and Yvonne (Fig. 3C), the one that many sources, including Wikipedia and
GRG, mistakenly marked as the photo of Jeanne (Fig. 3D). It is dated as 1880, but this dating is probably
erroneous, and the cause of error could be again the confusion between Jeanne and Yvonne, since both look
very old on the photo, and the much more probable date should be 1903, which is when Yvonne, not Jeanne,
was 5 years old.
A 71-year-old widow, Joséphine Audibert (born in Tarascon), claimed to have seen Yvonne's corpse,
and her testimony was signed by the aide of the mayor of Arles, Justine Valle, who claimed to have
ascertained the fact that Yvonne Calment died at 2:00 a.m. on 19 January 1934, at the age of exactly 36
years at her home on Gambetta Street.
After Yvonne's official death, her son Frédéric was brought up by his grandmother Jeanne Calment.
He called her "Manzane", meaning mama Jeanne. According to [9], when Frédéric was one year old, his
parents went for a vacation to Italy, leaving the child to his grandparents. The child persistently tried to call
his grandma "mama", but they reached a compromise. After Yvonne's death, Jeanne treated Frédéric as her
child [5, 9, 15].
According to the 1954 and 1962 censuses, Madame Calment lived together with her son-in-law
colonel Joseph Billot, and Frédéric lived with his wife René in the nearby apartment [14, 32]. Jeanne was an
unusual mother-in-law; she perfectly got along with Joseph with whom they previously co-raised Frédéric
[5]. In the 1962 census, Joseph Billot was originally labeled as "M"-Married, then fixed on "V" Widower
[32]. On the other hand, as far as I know, Jeanne did not communicate with the widow of her grandson
when she became a supercentenarian.
According to the validators, the daughter and the mother shared characteristics in their behavior,
their liveliness, their gait. Admittedly, Jeanne said that Yvonne resembled her father more than her mother.
Besides, the two women appeared quite different in photographs where they appear together [5] (Fig. 3A).
In the first French edition of the verification biography of Calment, the authors put a joint photo of Jeanne
and Yvonne and sign it: Jeanne and Yvonne, who is who? Indeed, at first glance, it is difficult to understand
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which of the women in the photo is older. However, based on the other available photos of young Jeanne, it
is obvious that Yvonne is the taller woman to the left of the observer (the same is written in the English
edition of the book). According to a sister of Joseph Billot, at the magnificent wedding of Yvonne in 1926,
Jeanne looked so young that she could be taken for a 28-year-old daughter [9]. This mistake was allegedly
made by Joseph's father at his first acquaintance with Jeanne [27].
Unfortunately, available photos of the Calment family are scarce. In 1994, shortly before the new
year, Madame Bigonnet, a cousin of her grandson and heiress of Jeanne Calment, said: "When she says
something to you, it is impossible to disobey. One day, she told me to burn all her old photos. I had to obey,
reluctantly." Luckily, Madame Bigonné managed to save some photos from the fire [27]. Apparently, Jeanne
decided to destroy the photos and other documents when she was requested to send them to the archives of
Arles [15]. Being in the nursing home and not being able to destroy the documents herself, Jeanne resorted
to the help of a distant relative. Most likely, it was a result of cold calculation and acute necessity instead of
an emotional act.
Here is how her validators describe this event: While she was still in the Maison du Lac, Madame
Calment destroyed all her personal archives, all her family photographs. That's a bit surprising; yet, this
attitude is not so unusual. Many people in her situation, without direct descendants or close friends, decide,
in the twilight of their lives, to leave nothing "dragging" behind them nothing that affects them, no trace of
their existence… She would say: "I don't want my image scattered."
It should be noted here that Madame Calment have not destroyed all traces of her existence. In the
nursing home, the photo portraits of the old lady were hanged on the walls; she starred in a film about Van
Gogh and was a subject of various photo sessions, including the joint photo shoot with the oldest man of
France, who was taken to her by helicopter [15]. For her 120th birthday, she was given a huge photo album
tracking her stay in the nursing home. At the age of 121, Calment became a rap star with the Time's Mistress
CD. After the release of this disc, the director of the nursing home was dismissed, and Jeanne almost ceased
to admit visitors, including gerontologists and validators, who believe that this isolation had adversely
affected her health and led to premature death [5, 15].
However, some of the photos have been preserved and published in her biographies, which might be
just the tip of the iceberg. It is known that Jeanne's grandson Frédéric had a hobby of making family video.
Perhaps some of the videos remain with his widow René Yvonne Bonnary, born in 1926, who has changed
her surname and lives now in Sausset-les-Pins. According to a biography [9], Frédéric died on the road near
Sausset-les-Pins in a car accident, but his death report stated that he died at his home on Gambetta Street.
On all published photos (except the joint photo with the daughter), the young Jeanne is turned in
profile to the left side. The only good facial photo (Fig. 3D) which, until recently, was labeled as Jeanne on
various Internet sources (Wikipedia in multiple languages, GRG's site, etc.) turned out to be the photo of
Yvonne [27] (Fig. 3C, bottom), which was confirmed by Michel Allard in personal correspondence. Now,
after Dr. Novoselov's official request to GRG, it was renamed as Daughter Yvonne
(http://www.grg.org/jcalmentgallery.htm).
11
Amazon Rekognition, which uses machine learning for facial recognition, identified two photos of
Yvonne (Fig. 3A, left and Fig 3C, bottom) and the supposed photo of Jeanne the only photo in the
biography [15] (Fig. 3F) as photos of the same person. I've made the same conclusion after aligning them in
Photoshop and smoothly changing the transparency of one of them. The differences between Jeanne and
Yvonne in their youth are apparent despite similar poses, necklaces and hats (Fig. 3C, top and Fig. 3F).
I've morphed young Yvonne to old (presumably 113-year-old) Madame Calment, having imposed
pupils and maintaining proportions of both photos. By changing the transparency, I created a transition
video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pKZRFjx2bU. The intermediate stage of this transition is
shown in Fig. 4A. In old age, the bottom lip has deteriorated, the skin has sagged, a second chin has
emerged, and the tip of the nose has moved down, but the main features (e.g, the shape of the main part of
the nose and the chin) show a very high level of similarity. In addition, one can see a little fibroma on the
nose of young Yvonne. A similar fibroma can be seen in one of the photos of the old Calment (Fig. 4B).
I failed to repeat the same procedure with young Jeanne because of the lack of facial photos. Photos
of young Jeanne's profile are poorly superimposed on similar pictures of an elderly Calment, probably
because the bad fit of the facial skulls. There are some other photos available for analysis, including the
photo of a 60-year-old Madame Calment at http://www.grg.org/images/JCalment/JCalment60.jpg, and there
are arguments that this woman looks like Yvonne (and thus Yvonne hadn't died at the age of 36), such as
https://medium.com/@yurideigin/jaccuse-why-122-year-longevity-record-may-be-fake-af87fc0c3133.
Professional expertise could potentially strengthen all the arguments based on visual inspection.
In a biography [9], there is a photo of Jeanne's passport (Fig. 3H) from the thirties (Jeanne then was
about 57 years old, so, probably, she used an old, younger photo). In the document, there is information on
several parameters: height (152 cm), hair color (black), eye color (black), and forehead shape (low). All of
these parameters differ from those expected from the old Jeanne Calment. According to Dr. Garoyan, who
wrote a medical dissertation on the health of 114-year-old Calment, her height was then 150 cm; the same
figure is given in [27]. Dr. Garoyan also reported that at closer to 120 years, Jeanne's posture became bent,
and perhaps her height in this bent state shrank to 137 cm as stated in [5].
Thus, in almost 60 years, she has lost only 2 centimeters in height, which is not consistent with
observed dynamics of longitudinal changes in height [28]. Based on a photograph of a 109-year-old Jeanne
in a nursing home (Fig. 3E), geriatrician Valery Novoselov estimated the age-related loss in height due to
osteopenia and osteoporosis as 8-10 cm, which is consistent with the average loss of women from 57 to 87
years (Fig. 3G) and inconsistent with the passport data. The young Yvonne is obviously taller than the old
Jeanne (Fig. 3D vs Fig. 3E), and her height can be estimated by conducting appropriate measurements in the
church of St. Trophime in Arles. Fig. 3A shows that young Yvonne was taller than Jeanne.
According to [5], her eyes were light grey and her hair was once chestnut brown. Michel Allard
suggested in personal correspondence that the eyes were light blue in her youth. As for the height of the
forehead, it is a rather subjective parameter, but the elderly Madame Calment, the young Yvonne Calment,
12
and her father Fernand had foreheads that go vertically upwards and do not look low, while on the photo of
young Jeanne, the forehead goes at an angle and may be considered low.
It is impossible to retrieve the eye color from the old photos, so let's trust Allard and the fact that, in
full agreement with him, some photos from when Madame Calment was 110 to 113 years old show that her
eyes are indeed light grey (Fig. 4B). Even on the black-and-white photos [4, 27] (Fig. 3A, 3B), one can see
that Yvonne's and Fernand's hair are lighter than Jeanne's. Admittedly, Jeanne said that Yvonne resembled
her father more than her mother [5].
In the report [14, 32], validators write that Jeanne has mentioned the servant Marthe Fousson, and
they cite the census of 1911 in which she is counted together with the Calment family. The only mention of
a servant with the name Marthe that I found in the biographies of Calment was the following: Did you go to
school with your friends, or did you go alone? "My father or the maid accompanied me…" What was the
maid called? "Marthe, Marthe Touchon." [4, 5]
In the last years of Calment's life when these validation talks took place, she had difficulty with
speaking precisely [5]. On the basis of almost identical-sounding surnames and the coincidence of the name,
and taking into account that there was nobody named Marthe living with Jeanne or nearby when she was a
child according to censuses, and the only servant found in the census of 1886 was called Marguerite
Minaud (who was a relative of Jeanne born without a father), I conclude that Marthe Touchon is the same
maid as Marthe Fousson from the validation report. But, according to the archives of the commune of
Fontvieille, she was born on 8th of March 1885 and thus was 10 years younger than Jeanne, so she couldn't
accompany Jeanne to school. However, she could well accompany her daughter Yvonne.
Analysis of the validation of the age of Madame Calment
The American demographer, James W. Vaupel; the Finnish demographer, Vaino Kannisto; and the
Danish epidemiologist, Bernard Jeune visited Jeanne Calment the day after her 120th birthday. Together,
they formed an unofficial committee whose purpose was to look through the documents that Robine and
Boyer had found in the city archives. There was a good deal of speculation at the time as to whether Mme
Calment really was as old as reported. If the comprehensive documentation that Robine and Boyer had dug
up could conclusively rule out all error and confusion, then she would indeed be "la doyenne de l'humanité"
(the elder of humankind), as her compatriots called her. It was, therefore, of great importance that impartial
experts examine the original documents. The only errors this team of researchers found were minorfor
example, a wrong middle name in some of the censuses [13].
I asked the authors [13] about these inaccuracies with the middle name, but no intelligible answer
was received. Then, I tried to check the formal validation [32] of the age of Calment based on the archive
data. The census data for Arles is available on the Internet until 1911 and the acts of birth, death and
marriage until 1902, so I focused on this period. The work was hampered by the fact that not all pages of
archival data are downloadable (the archive support service did not respond to requests) and that the report
13
[14, 32] contained many minor inaccuracies, possibly appearing after the translation into English and often
not very important, but showing that, despite being heavily cited in scientific publications, the validation
was not thoroughly checked by anybody.
For example, in the validation [14, 32], they write that Jeanne was born in a house on Duroure, while
the correct street name is Du Roure, and that in 1876, Jeanne was counted in the western Canton, section J,
but she was counted in section I. The validators write that in 1906, she was counted on St Estève Street, but
she was counted on the Rue de la République (it is the same house, located on three streets at once). It is
written that Jeanne moved to a nursing home at the age of 110 years, and, in fact, she moved at the age of
109 years (and 10 months). In addition, not all links (for example, "Blois, P. (1993) The Interview with
Master Raffré, a notary from Arles") from the validation are available, and the authors themselves could not
answer me as to where the source could be found. These small problems show that despite the fact that the
validation report is available on the Internet [32], so far, no one has informed the authors about them or they
have not made the corrections.
In the 1901 census, the validators found Jeanne Calment at two addresses, and the 1931 census did
not count Yvonne Calment in Arles. The validators found that Marthe Fousson was born in 1885, according
to the 1911 census, but did not pay attention to the fact that Madame Calment, born in 1875, said that
Marthe accompanied her to school.
For a strange reason, the validators write that in 1891 and 1896, no 'list of population counts' was
established, which is wrong. I have not been able to obtain the information of these censuses at the certain
addresses because of the download problems on the archive's website, but in the 1896 census, it was possible
to find a notary, Victor Arnaud, who executed the marriage contract of Jeanne in 1896, and, 30 years later,
the marriage contract of Yvonne in 1926.
As mentioned above, Jeanne and Yvonne had a lot in common, so it is not surprising that they were
married in the same church of St. Trophime where Yvonne was also baptized, and, as Denis Danilov
remarked, her photo (Fig 3C, D) was also taken there. It turned out that the notary was also the same. On the
other hand, the ancestors of André Raffré, who was paying the lifetime annuity to Jeanne, did not live in
Arles. Cyril Depoudant found out that Raffré came to Arles from the opposite end of France; he was born in
Cancale.
An example of a perfect fraud
The possible financial motive for the identity switch could be tax evasion. As far as I know, the first
time this version of events was expressed was in the discussion of Calment's article in the French Wikipedia
[34] by the user hbourj. Thanks to Cyril Depoudent, we managed to get a list of ten real estate transactions
conducted by Jeanne Calment from 1897 to 1955 as well as transactions made by her family members.
These include a large rental deal in Arles (probably of the space of the shop which was closed in 1937) of
375,000 francs in 1938, which could purchase roughly the same amount of gold as 375,000 modern dollars,
14
and the sale of the farm in Saint Martin de Crau, which was formerly owned by Jeanne's father Nicolas
Calment, in 1951 for 5.5 million francs, which is equivalent to around $500,000 today. One of the sellers
was Jeanne, and another was Frédéric Billot, who had probably bought the share of François in 1943 for
500,000 francs (approximately 350,000 modern dollars). This farm was probably inherited by Jeanne and
François from Nicolas Calment after his death in 1931, since the only large gift by Nicolas to his children
was made in 1926 and amounted to 72,000 francs (approximately 130,000 modern dollars). After the death
of Nicolas in 1931, both Jeanne and François sold some property for 35,000 francs each, and it was stated
that Jeanne had sold the apartment at Roquette, 53 the address of the parents of Jeanne Calment (they both
had died there, according to the death certificates obtained by Cyril Depoudent).
Between 1791 and 1901… the proportional tax rates were fairly small (generally 1%-2% for
children and spouses), so there was really very little incentive to cheat. The estate tax was made progressive
in 1901. In the 1920s, tax rates were sharply increased for large estates. In 1901, the top marginal rate
applying to child heirs was as small as 5%; by the mid 1930s, it was 35%; it is currently 40%. Throughout
the 20th century, these high top rates were only applied to small segments of the population and assets [21].
Interestingly, the tax laws seem to affect the timing of reported deaths [35].
Perhaps the Calment family suffered from taxation after the death of Maria Felix (widow of the
founder of the store, Jacques Calment) and especially after the death of Jeanne's father Nicolas Calment, the
owner of land and real estate in the surrounding villages [5, 15] in 1931. The inheritance tax for the farm in
Saint Martin de Crau could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in modern money. It is not hard to
imagine that the family had neither desire nor ability to pay the tax, especially twice in a row (here, one
should recall that Jeanne hated socialists [5, 15]). Information about paid taxes must be stored in the relevant
archives [21], so one can try to check the taxes paid after the death of Nicolas in 1931, given access to them.
In addition, Jeanne and her husband had a lot of common property (which they had rented out after the
closure of the store), the inheritance of which could also be heavily taxed.
If it was Jeanne and not Yvonne who died on Yvonne's birthday in January 1934 (or even earlier;
recall that there was no Jeanne already in the 1931 census), the family could persuade 71-year-old Joséphine
Audibert that the body belonged to Jeanne. As the Calments had a large influence in high circles of Arles
[5], there could be several ways for them to manage this identity switch. Yvonne could spend a lot of time
outside of Arles where she could be known under the pseudonym Jeanne (recall that she used the masculine
form Jean in the hunting society). In addition, most people knew her just as Madame Calment, no matter
what name she used. One should also take into account the specifics of Provence, which was a region with
its own language and mentality where the idea of paying huge taxes to the French Treasury could be not
very popular and corruption at the local level was probably not uncommon.
The inner circle knew about the substitution but did not tell anyone. Jeanne and Yvonne, unlike
Fernand, were not sociable people, and from afar they were not easy to distinguish: they dressed similarly
(Fig. 3A), Jeanne looked young and, as we have seen above, people who were unfamiliar with her often
confused her with Yvonne. When one journalist asked Madame Calment: "You were a charming woman;
15
you must have had a lot of gallant proposals?" she answered him: "My husband was a marvelous man.
When one has an angel, one keeps him, and the rest don't see you." [5] World War II brought chaos with it
[9, 15], and after the war, it all settled as if Madame Calment was always Madame Jeanne Calment.
In addition to many biographies that do not question Jeanne's identity, I managed to find a rare book
on insurance published in 2007 [10], where there is a short paragraph in the chapter on insurance fraud
devoted to Madame Calment. The author describes the rumor that a certain insurance company has found
out that instead of Jeanne Calment, it was her daughter who received the rent, but by agreement with the
authorities, it kept the secret given how much the character of the "doyenne of the French" had become
legendary. The details of the story are not clear. An officially sanctioned visit to Arles and Marseille and an
investigation into various archives could clear some of the remaining questions. Forensic analysis of the
bodies and DNA of the family members could be done to establish the truth, but political will is necessary to
make it possible. However, after studying this case as deep as I could, I can state that the likelihood that
Jeanne Calment had really set a record of longevity is extremely low. To conclude, here is the
List of arguments supporting the identity switch hypothesis
1. The first (by date of birth) French woman to be validated as a supercentenarian by a large project
searching for long-lived people (funded by the Ipsen foundation [19]) achieved the world record. The
probability of such luck is very small. In a simulation of 5000 110-year-olds, who died at the rate of
105-year-old Italians, none lived to the age of Calment, while there are only 80 validated long-lived
people born before Jeanne in the IDL database. Jeanne became well-known to gerontologists when
she was 114, which is when her personal probability to reach 122 was less than 0.5%.
2. According to numerous testimonies, Calment looked 20-30 years younger than her age, at least from
100 until 117 years. The geriatrician V. Novoselov noted that she had no signs of the syndrome of
senile frailty (R54 in the ICD-10), which is common in people over a hundred years of age.
3. Dr. Novoselov's professional opinion that the photos and videos of Calment in the nursing home
correspond to the appearance of a woman who is 20-25 years younger was confirmed by the poll of
224 people on the assessment of the age of the woman in the photo (a professional photo portrait of
Jeanne on her 117th birthday). The average result (95 years) coincided not with the age of Jeanne but
with the age of her daughter Yvonne. A similar "error" in the assessment of the age of 100-year-old
Calment was made by the mayor of Arles in 1975. A mayor's position requires him to contact a lot of
people of different ages, so he should be good at age assessment.
4. No mention was found of her centennial in the local press. Jeanne became famous only after she was
110 years old. Jeanne didn't want publicity when she was 100 years old.
16
5. Intentional, remote destruction of photos and family archives after moving to the nursing home
suggests that Jeanne had something to hide.
6. Comparative analysis of photos of young Yvonne and old Jeanne shows a very high visual similarity
in the height and shape of the frontal bone, the shape of the nose, and anthropometric parameters of
the facial skull.
7. There is a documented mismatch in anthropometric and physiological data (standing height when
age-related changes are accounted for, eye color, the height/shape of the forehead, and hair color) in
different years of life.
8. Jeanne willingly spoke about historical events and encounters with celebrities, but her claims often
did not match reality.
9. Jeanne was reluctant to give detailed answers about her family; she confused her grandmother with
Yvonne's grandmother, her husband with her father, et cetera.
10. According to one biography, Jeanne said that she first went hunting around 1914 (Jeanne should
have been near 40 years old, Yvonne near 16), got the pseudonym Jean in the hunting society, and
then mastered skiing in the mountains of Grenoble. In another biography, she said that she was a
huntress when she was 20 years old.
11. Jeanne said that her maid Marthe Touchon brought her to school when she was a child. The only
servant with a similar name related to the Calments was Marthe Fousson, who was born in 1885 and
was thus 10 years younger than Jeanne, so it was Yvonne who could go to school with her.
12. Jeanne's grandson called her mother "Manzane", and Jeanne shared an apartment with her son-in-law
until his death in 1963. In some censuses, he was first labeled as married, then corrected to widower.
13. Yvonne had a strong motive to acquire the identity of her mother in case of her death: the inheritance
tax on large assets was as high as 35 percent in the thirties, and in 1931, the father of Jeanne and the
mother of her husband had died. Further inheritance taxes could put the family on the brink of ruin.
14. Yvonne had the opportunity to pretend that she was Jeanne: mother and daughter dressed similarly,
Yvonne did not enjoy socializing, and she had a villa outside of Arles. Probably, before the death of
Yvonne's mother, she used the nickname of Jean/Jeanne. Anyway, she was just Madame Calment to
17
most people. Contrary to popular opinion, Jeanne almost never visited her husband's shop, and the
store ceased to exist in 1937. The Calments were an influential family and could solve problems
using their vast ties in Arles.
15. Census data is not reliable: in some censuses, Jeanne is counted twice; in some, there is no Yvonne.
The commune of Arles is the largest in France, and Jeanne had property in nearby communes.
16. The validators stressed that Jeanne Calment comes from a family of long-lived people, but an
analysis of the relevant survival curves shows that a relatively long lifespan was only an attribute of
her ancestors who were part of the family line of wealthy shipbuilders (the Calments themselves,
their wives and parents of wives); the survival curve of other ancestors of Jeanne was similar to that
of ordinary Frenchmen of that time. After 70 years of age, the family members of the shipbuilders
demonstrate the usual survival curve, and none of Jeanne's ancestors lived longer than 94 years.
17. As the forgery could be carefully planned beforehand, and Jeanne profited from it later in life
through invoking her life annuity contract at the age of 90 years, special efforts would have been
required to uncover it, but gerontologists have not considered the scenario of intentional forgery; it
was not previously described in the relevant literature.
With the knowledge of the background described above, many phrases of Jeanne Calment acquire
new meaning, and her famous sense of humor shines even more. A number of her sayings directly indicate
that she has made a substitution of identity: "The Merciful God has missed my name. And now he's not
remembering me anymore. Merciful God forgot me... They say that the rascals are lucky - I have to be a big
one... I think I'm going to die laughing, it's part of my program... When they put me in the coffin, put the
photo of my grandson at my right, and the one of my daughter at my left, and they will be buried with me.
Oh, that will only be an imaginary burial, they are both in the ground already…" In the case of disclosure,
she would be able to say, "Look, I told you about it." Given her age and charisma, and the life circumstances
that pressured her to make such a replacement, it would probably have been understood and forgiven.
However, history went in another direction, and there is considerable merit to the "gerontologist
phenomenon" defined by Valery Novoselov it is not difficult to deceive those who are happy to be
deceived [1].
Discussion
It should be noted that the science of extreme longevity is becoming more rigorous. In the past, oral
testimony was enough to recognize the age of a person, but now various pieces of documentary evidence are
required for validation, and a lot of myths have been debunked [14, 24, 29, 30]. Formal study of censuses
18
and other archival data dispelled doubts about the validity of Calment's record. Many inaccuracies in the
published validation show that no one has checked it thoroughly.
However, "conspiracy theories" periodically arose (discussions on Wikipedia [34] and on the
gerontological forum The 110 Club as well as a paragraph from the book about the insurance business [10])
but quickly lost steam. Finding truth is a collaborative effort, and any contribution can serve the cause; even
an accidental mention by a curious stranger of a related fact can help uncover an important clue. This is the
case with the tax hypothesis.
Until recently, there was an old thread on the 110 Club forum dedicated to the plausibility of Jeanne
Calment; now its cache is available at the link
https://web.archive.org/web/20170227010118/http://z3.invisionfree.com/The_110_Club/ar/t3663.htm. The
majority of the participants of the discussion converged on the fact that the reliability of Jeanne is
indisputable, and if one wants to challenge Calment, all the other long-lived people automatically become
unreliable.
This work was born thanks to a conversation started by Valery Novoselov in the Facebook
discussion of a post by Leonid Gavrilov concerning aging:
https://www.facebook.com/leonid.gavrilov.90/posts/542614616118354?comment_id=543648066015009.
Despite acknowledging Calment's record in their publications, Leonid and Natalia Gavrilova were skeptical
based on their hypothesis that mortality in older ages continues to grow exponentially. However, if this
hypothesis is true, then one should question the validity of not only Calment but most of the other
documented supercentenarians. Besides, this hypothesis is based on questionable analysis: supercentenarians
from later cohorts from the IDL considered in [11] were representative by the year of death, but not by the
year of birth, since the number of publicly available supercentenarians reduced sharply in the beginning of
this century, while the data from the GRG considered in [11] were not representative by the age of death [1].
Anyway, I am aware of only one gerontological publication questioning the validity of Jeanne
Calment. It is a review (http://longevity-science.org/PDR-00.pdf) of a book [14] by the Gavrilovs, and it
raises doubts of her validity based on the large gap between her and other supercentenarians. No calculations
explaining why the gap is "large" are provided in this review.
Robert Young, the director of the GRG, a consultant for the Guinness Book of Records and the
administrator of the 110 Club, writes that in cases when the declared age is approaching 120 years, the
validation should be very thorough, as was done in the case of Jeanne Calment. To stress this point, a lot of
false examples of long-lived people is provided in [30]. Jean-Marie Robine, one of the validators of Jeanne
Calment, and his colleagues from the IDL note that "Studying extreme ages necessarily involves small
numbers, and, therefore, a single age error, especially at the highest ages, may well have strong implications
for predicting the trajectory of mortality. It is thus of great importance to check the reliability and accuracy
of each reported age from such a dataset." [24]
One of the well-known examples of disproved supercentenarians, Pierre Joubert [14], who died in
1814 at the age of 113, was not questioned until the end of the 20th century, when the demographer Hubert
19
Charbonneau showed that Pierre Joubert had in fact died in 1766 and it was his son, born in 1732, who has
been mistakenly considered as the oldest Canadian for a long time. It is important to note that in this and
other false examples of long-lived people [29, 30], the substitution was not pre-planned, so it was quite easy
to expose (thus, Charbonneau has found the real death record of Pierre Joubert). In the case of Jeanne
Calment, it seems that the researchers were not ready to investigate a well-planned and brilliantly conducted
identity switch in the distant past of 1934.
The validators of Jeanne Calment obviously have not found anything suspicious in the
inconsistencies in Jeanne's interviews nor the destruction of photos and other documents, and they have not
carried out comparative examination of the surviving photos and documents. They haven't conducted
conversations with witnesses of Jeanne's early life since all such witnesses have already died [5]. However,
even after 25 years from the start of the validation, some witnesses or their children were still alive [15, 22].
Admittedly, these witnesses do not talk about substitution and maintain the accepted story. Some might not
be aware, and others might not want to tell the truth. As even the most studied centenarian of the world,
apparently, managed to deceive the scientific community, the principles of validation should be reconsidered
and tightened.
For obvious reasons, among the formal supercentenarians, there should be a disproportionately large
number of people whose documents contain intentional or accidental errors that overestimate their age. On
the 21th of February 1986, when Jeanne Calment turned 111 years old, the previously universally
recognized record holder, Shigechiyo Izumi, died at the age of 120. It was soon revealed that Izumi acquired
the birth certificate of his deceased older brother, and, in fact, he lived "only" until 105.
Two other universally recognized rivals of Jeanne Calment were also "devalidated": 117-year-olds
Lucy Hannah (Fig. 1), for whom the users of The 110 Club forum showed that the corresponding census
data was related to another person, and Carrie White (it turned out that a mistake by an employee of a
psychiatric hospital led to an overstatement of the age of Carrie by 14 years).
Errors in a small fraction of birth and death records can significantly distort the observed dynamics
of mortality. For example, if errors are distributed normally, then the observed force of mortality would
decrease in old age, even if in reality, it is increasing exponentially [20]. It is easy to show that if errors are
distributed exponentially, then a mortality plateau will be observed at the end of life.
However, the mortality plateau in humans could exist in the real data. To verify this, it is necessary
to revise the validation principles and try to create a small, representative (the probability of being recorded
should not increase with age this principle was not taken into account in [11], cf. [1]), and truly verified
list of semisupercentenarians over 105 years old. If in addition to participating in validation, geriatricians
become involved in the study of these long-lived people and collect longitudinal data on their health, the
analysis of this data will help in understanding the process of individual aging. It is also necessary to avoid
any conflict of interest. Selective revalidation of existing supercentenarians will allow estimation of the
frequency of fake cases.
20
Jeanne Calment died on August 4, 1997, the birthday of the English Queen Mother, who lived to 102
years. The story of the Queen's life is documented in great detail, so there is reason to believe that in her
case, it is possible to know for sure that she had actually lived to such a respectable age. For ordinary
people, there is a need to develop methods of age verification based on forensic methods, various
biomarkers such as radiocarbon analysis, analysis of the racemization of amino acids in long-lived proteins,
DNA methylation patterns, et cetera.
Oddly enough, despite so many years of work with Jeanne Calment, the gerontological community
was unable to obtain any of her biomaterials. Validators describe several reasons for this: they were afraid
that a conversation about biomaterials could ruin the atmosphere of trust between them and Jeanne [15]; she
was buried hastily… in the strictest privacy, said to be what she would have wanted… which was certainly
strange for a woman who loved attention, honor and celebrity so much [5, 15]; "We could not imagine that
nobody could reach this age again." (Dr. Garoyan, personal correspondence). Calment's medical card is not
available for study [15]. Here again, political will is needed.
Madame Calment probably never became a centenarian. However, she was a good example of
healthy aging. She had a bright personality, and, unlike most other long-lived people, the interest of the
general public in her person was not extinguished shortly after her death: one can check the frequency of
requests of the surname Calment in Google Trends people are Googling the record holder more often than
all the other supercentenarians together, especially in France, where she is more popular than such a
prominent politician as Lenin.
In addition, the name Calment is probably one of the most frequently mentioned in books and papers
on the topic of aging. The study of this story can be useful not only for gerontologists but also for scientists
in general, as it shows the potential fragility of common knowledge.
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Valery Novoselov for motivation, useful advice and support, Cyril
Depoudent for his kind help in extracting numerous archival data and answers to my questions, forum users
from http://centenaires-francais.forumactif.org/, Caroline Boyer-Bisson, Ilya Krouglikov, Sergey
Gorchinskiy, Sergey Sinitsyn, Yuri Deigin, Alexander Fedintsev, Fedor Zak and Galina Shagieva for their
help and discussions during the various stages of the investigation, Georges Garoyan, Jean-Marie Robine,
Michel Allard, and Heiner Mayer for their answers to my questions, Robert Young for his criticism and
suggestions, Elisabetta Barbi, Anna Rita Dionisi and ISTAT for the access to the data of the Italian
semisupercentenarians, IDL for the open access to the supercentenarian data, and Joshua Conway for
English editing.
* I try to convey the meaning of the translated text from French sources as accurately as possible. I will be
happy to provide the relevant fragments from the quoted books and other documents on request.
21
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23
Figure 1. Survival curves of the cohort of Italians (ISTAT) after 105 years, the group of supercentenarians
from IDL born before 1876 after 110 years, and simulated populations with a constant mortality rate.
Jeanne Calment died last.
24
Figure 2. Survival curves of three groups of the ancestors of Jeanne Calment. The shipbuilders and
members of their families lived longer than the other ancestors, just as the French live longer nowadays
than in the 19th century.
25
Figure 3. A: "Jeanne and her daughter Yvonne: who is who?" [4] (in [5] Yvonne is stated to be to the left of
the viewer). B: Jeanne and her husband Fernand, 1900 [27]. C: Top: Jeanne Calment, bottom: Yvonne,
daughter of Jeanne Calment [27]. D: Yvonne Calment in the St. Trophime Cathedral (Wikipedia). E:
Madame Calment at 109 [27]. F: Yvonne Calment mistakenly taken for Jeanne in [15]. G: Longitudinal
dynamics of height in humans [28]. H: Passport of Jeanne Calment in 193? [9].
26
Figure 4. A: Yvonne Calment; Yvonne Calment over the old Madame Calment; old Madame Calment. B:
Possible fibroma on the nose of Yvonne (contrasted with Photoshop) and the old Madame Calment.
С: Madame Calment at 117 used in the age estimation poll.
... However, in December 2018, JC's record of longevity was contested by the gerontologist Valery Novoselov in an interview published on a website (10) and by the laboratory technician Nikolay Zak in a manuscript posted on ResearchGate.net (11). Based upon inaccurate or unrelated facts, they propose a conspiracy theory, claiming that JC died in 1934 and that her daughter, Yvonne Billot (YB), committed an identity fraud in order to avoid paying inheritance taxes. ...
... net, it appears that Zak concludes that it was mathematically impossible for a person to reach the age of 122 years. He then researched what had been written about JC and subsequently constructed a story that he believes supports a case of fraud (11,12). In the preprint, Zak devotes just a few paragraphs to his mathematical refute of JC's age claim. ...
... In the preprint, Zak devotes just a few paragraphs to his mathematical refute of JC's age claim. He bases his conclusion on two assumptions in both the preprint and later in his article, that "the force of mortality is almost constant after 105 years" thus half of supercentenarians die "during any year of follow up," and that it "does not vary much with sex, country and year of birth" (11,12). Initial studies argued for an exponential increase in the mortality rate at older age but then a deceleration at extreme ages. ...
Article
Background: The 122 years and 164 days age claim of Jeanne Calment, the world oldest person who died in 1997, is the most thoroughly validated age claim. Recently the claim that families Calment and Billot organized a conspiracy concerning tax fraud based on identity fraud between mother and daughter gained international media attention. Methods: Here, we reference the original components of the validation as well as additional documentation to address various claims of the conspiracy theory and provide evidence for why these claims are based on inaccurate facts or unrelated to the death of Yvonne Billot-Calment, the daughter of Jeanne Calment, in 1934. Results: Also, countering the contention that the occurrence of a 122 year old person is statistically impossible, mathematical models are presented which also supports the hypothesis that though extremely rare, as would be expected for the oldest person ever, Jeanne Calment's age claim is plausible. Conclusions: In total, the quality of the investigation supporting the claim of conspiracy as well as the mathematical analysis aiming to back it do not reach the level expected for a scientific publication.
... Actualmente, la esperanza de vida se utiliza para conocer el grado de desarrollo de un país (Instituto BBVA de Pensiones, 2014). Pero desde principios Jeanne Calment, quien lo habría hecho en 1934 (Zac, 2018). Parece, por tanto, que todas las hipótesis biopsicosociales que se habían planteado, sobre ese ejemplo máximo de longevidad humana, se vuelven aún más inciertas. ...
Article
Full-text available
En este trabajo se hace una revisión bibliográfica sobre el desarrollo evolutivo humano y longevidad, desde un enfoque biopsicosocial (Engel, 1977; Gliedt et al., 2017; Lehman et al., 2017). Tras aplicar el método de análisis PRISMA, se obtuvieron diversos resultados relacionados con un desarrollo evolutivo más longevo; así, en el área biológica, 3 factores: los SNPs, los telómeros y la química del estrés; en el área psicológica, 5 factores: la metacognición, la resiliencia, la espiritualidad, las relaciones personales y la depresión; y en el área social, 8 factores: la pseudo-heredabilidad, las relaciones conyugales, la maternidad, el nivel educativo, estilos de vida, dieta y restricción calórica, actividad física y mental y tecnología sanitaria. Ante los datos obtenidos en las tres áreas, de este enfoque biopsicosocial, y el repetido solapamiento entre factores del área psicológica y del área social, se plantea que pudieran considerarse estas dos como una conjunta, proponiéndose un enfoque explicativo con dos áreas: bio-psicosocial que, por factores encontrados en este trabajo, quedarían un 18,7% de biológica y un 81,3% psicosocial. Actualmente, hay suficiente información sobre desarrollo evolutivo humano y longevidad, pero una ausencia de investigaciones que estudien esos factores desde una perspectiva integrada. Mucha de esa información privilegiada se podría aplicar ya, psicológica y socialmente, a la población en general, para una mejora de su salud, en cualquier fase del desarrollo evolutivo humano.
Data
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List of new papers, internet resources and media coverage challenging the validity of Jeanne Calment record. (PDF)
Article
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The growing number of persons surviving to age 100 years and beyond raises questions about the shape of mortality trajectories at exceptionally high ages, and this problem may become significant for actuaries in the near future. However, such studies are scarce because of the difficulties in obtaining reliable age estimates at exceptionally high ages. The current view about mortality beyond age 110 years suggests that death rates do not grow with age and are virtually flat. The same assumption is made in the new actuarial VBT tables. In this paper, we test the hypothesis that the mortality of supercentenarians (persons living 110+ years) is constant and does not grow with age, and we analyze mortality trajectories at these exceptionally high ages. Death records of supercentenarians were taken from the International Database on Longevity (IDL). All ages of supercentenarians in the database were subjected to careful validation. We used IDL records for persons belonging to extinct birth cohorts (born before 1895) since the last deaths in IDL were observed in 2007. We also compared our results based on IDL data with a more contemporary database maintained by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG). First we attempted to replicate findings by Gampe (2010), who analyzed IDL data and came to the conclusion that "human mortality after age 110 is flat." We split IDL data into two groups: cohorts born before 1885 and cohorts born in 1885 and later. Hazard rate estimates were conducted using the standard procedure available in Stata software. We found that mortality in both groups grows with age, although in older cohorts, growth was slower compared with more recent cohorts and not statistically significant. Mortality analysis of more numerous 1884-1894 birth cohort with the Akaike goodness-of-fit criterion showed better fit for the Gompertz model than for the exponential model (flat mortality). Mortality analyses with GRG data produced similar results. The remaining life expectancy for the 1884-1894 birth cohort demonstrates rapid decline with age. This decline is similar to the computer-simulated trajectory expected for the Gompertz model, rather than the extremely slow decline in the case of the exponential model. These results demonstrate that hazard rates after age 110 years do not stay constant and suggest that mortality deceleration at older ages is not a universal phenomenon. These findings may represent a challenge to the existing theories of aging and longevity, which predict constant mortality in the late stages of life. One possibility for reconciliation of the observed phenomenon and the existing theoretical consideration is a possibility of mortality deceleration and mortality plateau at very high yet unobservable ages.
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Does the human lifespan have an impenetrable biological upper limit which ultimately will stop further increase in life lengths? This question is important for understanding aging, and for society, and has led to intense controversies. Demographic data for humans has been interpreted as showing existence of a limit, or even as an indication of a decreasing limit, but also as evidence that a limit does not exist. This paper studies what can be inferred from data about human mortality at extreme age. We show that in western countries and Japan and after age 110 the probability of dying is about 47% per year. Hence there is no finite upper limit to the human lifespan. Still, given the present stage of biotechnology, it is unlikely that during the next 25 years anyone will live longer than 128 years in these countries. Data, remarkably, shows no difference in mortality after age 110 between sexes, between ages, or between different lifestyles or genetic backgrounds. These results, and the analysis methods developed in this paper, can help testing biological theories of ageing and aid confirmation of success of efforts to find a cure for ageing.
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Supercentenarians (110 years or older) are the world's oldest people. Seventy four are alive worldwide, with twenty two in the United States. We performed whole-genome sequencing on 17 supercentenarians to explore the genetic basis underlying extreme human longevity. We found no significant evidence of enrichment for a single rare protein-altering variant or for a gene harboring different rare protein altering variants in supercentenarian compared to control genomes. We followed up on the gene most enriched for rare protein-altering variants in our cohort of supercentenarians, TSHZ3, by sequencing it in a second cohort of 99 long-lived individuals but did not find a significant enrichment. The genome of one supercentenarian had a pathogenic mutation in DSC2, known to predispose to arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which is recommended to be reported to this individual as an incidental finding according to a recent position statement by the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics. Even with this pathogenic mutation, the proband lived to over 110 years. The entire list of rare protein-altering variants and DNA sequence of all 17 supercentenarian genomes is available as a resource to assist the discovery of the genetic basis of extreme longevity in future studies.
Chapter
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The United States contributed the largest number of cases to the International Database on Longevity and probably has the largest supercentenarian population in the world. This chapter provides a detailed description of the methods used to validate eight supercentenarians in the United States who attained an age of 115 years or older. The chapter also describes five claims to age 115 and beyond that were eventually shown to be false, again emphasizing age validation and the various different problems commonly encountered by researchers.
Chapter
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The vast majority of 115+-year-olds reported around the world have not, in fact, attained the age claimed. However, we are fairly certain that, since 1990, nearly 20 persons worldwide have reached the age of 115 years or more, among them the longest-living person, Jeanne Calment, who reached age 122. We have attempted to validate the stated ages of these people through the collection of available genealogical information, and through detailed evaluations of this information. This chapter attempts to paint a picture of these true long-livers based on insights about them gleaned from various sources, including interviews with some of them conducted by aging researchers. The life journeys of these very old people differed widely, and they are almost without common characteristics, aside from the fact that the overwhelming majority are women (only two are men), most smoked very little or not at all, and they had never been obese. Still, they all seem to have been powerful personalities, but decidedly not all were domineering personalities.They are living examples of the fact that it is possible to live a very long life while remaining in fairly good shape. Although these people aged slowly, all of them nonetheless became extremely frail in their final years. Their physical functions declined markedly, especially after their 105th birthdays. They spent their last years confined to wheelchairs, virtually blind and very hard of hearing. But they did not fear death, and they appeared to be reconciled to the fact that their lives would soon end.
Article
Full-text available
Purpose. Political, national, religious, and other motivations have led the media and even scientists to errantly accept extreme longevity claims prima facie. We describe various causes of false claims of extraordinary longevity. Design and Methods. American Social Security Death Index files for the period 1980-2009 were queried for individuals with birth and death dates yielding ages 110+ years of age. Frequency was compared to a list of age-validated supercentenarians maintained by the Gerontology Research Group who died during the same time period. Age claims of 110+ years and the age validation experiences of the authors facilitated a list of typologies of false age claims. Results. Invalid age claim rates increase with age from 65% at age 110-111 to 98% by age 115 to 100% for 120+ years. Eleven typologies of false claims were: Religious Authority Myth, Village Elder Myth, Fountain of Youth Myth (substance), Shangri-La Myth (geographic), Nationalist Pride, Spiritual Practice, Familial Longevity, Individual and/or Family Notoriety, Military Service, Administrative Entry Error, and Pension-Social Entitlement Fraud. Conclusions. Understanding various causes of false extreme age claims is important for placing current, past, and future extreme longevity claims in context and for providing a necessary level of skepticism.
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Here, Ruby et al. analyze an unprecedented amount of public family tree data from Ancestry and determine that the heritability of human longevity was well below 10%, lower than the widely-held belief that lifespan... Human life span is a phenotype that integrates many aspects of health and environment into a single ultimate quantity: the elapsed time between birth and death. Though it is widely believed that long life runs in families for genetic reasons, estimates of life span “heritability” are consistently low (∼15–30%). Here, we used pedigree data from Ancestry public trees, including hundreds of millions of historical persons, to estimate the heritability of human longevity. Although “nominal heritability” estimates based on correlations among genetic relatives agreed with prior literature, the majority of that correlation was also captured by correlations among nongenetic (in-law) relatives, suggestive of highly assortative mating around life span-influencing factors (genetic and/or environmental). We used structural equation modeling to account for assortative mating, and concluded that the true heritability of human longevity for birth cohorts across the 1800s and early 1900s was well below 10%, and that it has been generally overestimated due to the effect of assortative mating.
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Beltrán-Sánchez et al . based their comment on misleading calculations of the maximum survival age. With realistic numbers of people attaining age 105 and the estimated plateau, the Jeanne Calment record is indeed plausible.
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Theories about biological limits to life span and evolutionary shaping of human longevity depend on facts about mortality at extreme ages, but these facts have remained a matter of debate. Do hazard curves typically level out into high plateaus eventually, as seen in other species, or do exponential increases persist? In this study, we estimated hazard rates from data on all inhabitants of Italy aged 105 and older between 2009 and 2015 (born 1896–1910), a total of 3836 documented cases. We observed level hazard curves, which were essentially constant beyond age 105. Our estimates are free from artifacts of aggregation that limited earlier studies and provide the best evidence to date for the existence of extreme-age mortality plateaus in humans.
Article
This paper attempts to document and account for the long run evolution of inheritance. We find that in a country like France the annual flow of inheritance was about 20%-25% of national income between 1820 and 1910, down to less than 5% in 1950, and back up to about 15% by 2010. A simple theoretical model of wealth accumulation, growth and inheritance can fully account for the observed U-shaped pattern and levels. Using this model, we find that under plausible assumptions the annual bequest flow might reach about 20%-25% of national income by 2050. This corresponds to a capitalized bequest share in total wealth accumulation well above 100%. Our findings illustrate the fact that when the growth rate g is small, and when the rate of return to private wealth r is permanently and substantially larger than the growth rate (say, r=4%-5% vs g=1%-2%), which was the case in the 19th century and early 20th century and is likely to happen again in the 21st century, then past wealth and inheritance are bound to play a key role for aggregate wealth accumulation and the structure of lifetime inequality. Contrarily to a widely spread view, modern economic growth did not kill inheritance.