Did The World's Oldest Person Ever Lie About Her Age? A Russian Mathematician Thinks So

Jeanne Calment
Jeanne Calment, the world's oldest woman according to the Guinness Book of Records for the past three years, celebrates her 119th birthday 21 February 1994 in France. Calment, who weighs only 99 pounds, has been confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home since a hip operation in 1990. ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images

A French woman's world record as the world's oldest person was allegedly obtained via fraud, a Russian mathematician has claimed.

According to a report from the Washington Post, Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, could have actually been her daughter, Yvonne. Calment was named by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest person ever, living 122 years and 164 days.

Mathematician Nikolay Zak released a report that states he believes that Yvonne assumed her mother's identity to avoid inheritance taxes in the 1930s. In the report, Zak presents a theory that Jean's death was reported as Yvonne's in 1934. If Yvonne assumed her mother's identity, she would have been 99 at the time of her death.

Zak's evidence includes interviews given by Calment where she frequently confuses her husband and her father, as well as several physical discrepancies including a different eye color listed on a passport from the 1930s compared to eye color later in life, and changes to Calment's chin and forehead.

Other evidence proposed by Zak includes Calment ordering a family friend to burn all photos of herself and her family after the archive in her hometown of Arles, France asked that she send some photographs.

"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. Apparently, Jeanne decided to destroy the photos and other documents when she was requested to send them to the archives of Arles. 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," Zak writes.

While Zak's report has created headlines and controversy, scientist Jean-Marie Robine, who validated Calment's age and wrote a book about her life, dismissed the allegation.

"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? It is staggering," Robine said to Smithsonian Magazine.

Guinness World Records has also dismissed the claim, saying via spokeswoman Rachel Gluck: "Extensive research is performed for every oldest person record title we verify, which is led by experts in the gerontology field, and they have been notified of the current situation."

Zak told the Post that he began looking into Calment's life in September 2018 after studying mortality rates in people over age 105.

"I funded the work myself, it was a fascinating detective story in front of me. Those who criticize my work heavily are those who have a huge conflict of interest or those who didn't read it," Zak said.

However, Zak told Reuters that he did not have "cast-iron proof" that Calment had lied.