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Did Jeanne Calment turn 122? Investigation of the crazy hypothesis of two Russian researchers

The World's oldest woman, Jeanne Calment, 120 years old, was kissed by two young girls during a special ceremony in Arles, Southern France, February 21, 1995. REUTERS / Jean-Paul Pelisser / Photo File - TM3ECA50UFL01

JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER / REUTERS

By Nathaniel Herzberg, Isabelle Mandraud and Florence Aubenas

Russian scientists have recently questioned the longevity record of the French, who died in 1997. According to them, her daughter, Yvonne, has usurped his identity. Hypothesis that do not subscribe specialists "supercentenarians".

For vespers, she trotted to Saint-Trophime, the chic church of the city, his heels ringing in the alleys, a veil, pink cheeks (perhaps a little more than necessary), beating those who staring too closely at once, proud and furious at his age. And every day, for decades, all Arles watched Jeanne Calment pass by wondering: "But how many years can she have? "

The Arlesian Remi Venture, like everyone else, asked the question when he was a child. Today director of the archives of the city, he knows by heart the skein of old families, all a little cousins, a little neighbor, cohabiting from generation to generation in the privacy of this big village. He failed to fall out of bed when he learned that two Russian researchers claimed that Jeanne Calment, doyenne of humanity, born in 1875 and died at 122 years and 164 days in 1997, would be a devilish usurper. According to them, Jeanne would not be Jeanne: the real one would have been buried in 1934, at 59, and Yvonne, her daughter, 36, would have taken her identity. The scam of the century.

Read also Russian researchers question the age of death of Jeanne Calment

"When one is Arlésien, one can not believe it. To fool a whole population? Impossible ", repeats Rémi Venture. That evening, the archivist is at the wish of the mayor (PCF), Hervé Schiavetti, where the city is pressing. In the pale light and inter-season Provence, we talk about everything except the doyenne. From here, the Russian hypothesis is not a conversation. A heresy, rather.

In the world of research, the Russian hypothesis, on the other hand, has the effect of a fragmentation bomb. Many specialists do not believe it, some talk about "Fake news". Yet she ended up instilling doubt, dividing the teams, including those who worked for years together on the subject. An informal crisis meeting was finally held in Paris on Wednesday, January 23, between international researchers.

In his apartment in Meudon (Hauts-de-Seine), Dr. Michel Allard found his documents, accumulated more than twenty years ago, when he convinced the laboratory Ipsen to explore the mystery of old age. A multidisciplinary team then selected a cohort of 300 centenarians, including Jeanne Calment. It quickly became the star, vampirisant the project around its prodigious longevity, which left its competitors far behind her.

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