Jeanne Calment made history when she died at the age of 122 in 1997, but a new investigation claims her daughter actually assumed her identity in 1934. Her outsized lifespan instantly put the socialite from Arles, France, into the history books as the oldest officially documented person to ever live.
Calment’s longevity has since inspired a healthy debate among scientists as to whether she was just an extreme outlier or if humans really do have the potential to naturally reach such old age. But there’s another explanation for Calment’s record-breaking life that is now being explored: was it was built on a lie?
The claim is that Calment, in fact, died at the age of 59 in 1934, and her daughter, Yvonne, assumed her identity after the fact to avoid inheritance taxes, and was thus the one who died in 1997 at the impressive-but-not-record-breaking age of 99.
Whether or not the claim is true—and it will require much more evidence to prove the case or even exhumation of both bodies—such a longevity switcheroo is not unprecedented. In 1814, a Quebec man Pierre Joubert died at the age of 113, making him the world’s oldest man. His age was even verified by government statisticians. However, it turned out that Joubert had the same name as his father, and the two records were conflated. Other similar cases have been found in South America, where the names of parents and children have been confused.
If Jeanne is unseated as the world’s oldest woman, the title will pass to American Sarah Knauss from Pennsylvania, who was 119 years and 97 days old when she died in 1999.